A COUNCIL leader who has spearheaded devolution for the Tees Valley has condemned the “behind-closed-doors, secret” nature of the deal-making process.

Sue Jeffrey, chair of the new Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), said she “absolutely agreed” with a National Audit Office (NAO) report’s finding that English regional devolution needed to be more transparent.

“We’ve all said that the deal-making process is very ad-hoc and all this behind-closed-doors, secret stuff isn’t very helpful at all,” the Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council leader said.

But she insisted the TVCA would deliver democratic accountability.

Ten English devolution deals have been agreed in the past 18 months, covering 16.1 million people across Greater Manchester, Cornwall, Sheffield City Region, the North-East, Tees Valley, Liverpool City Region, the West Midlands, East Anglia, Greater Lincolnshire and the West of England, and a further 24 proposals are being discussed.

The Tees Valley’s five councils, Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Hartlepool, and the TVCA which brings them all together, have backed a package handing powers over transport, economic development and skills and planning to a new mayor to be elected in May 2017.

Negotiations with Whitehall are continuing, ahead of public consultation later this year.

But there has been criticism of the lack of public involvement to date and in the North-East the process has been riven with problems. Last month, Gateshead Council rejected the offer outright, while the other six members of the North-East Combined Authority (NECA) voted to postpone a final decision.

Last week, six County Durham Labour MPs wrote to every Labour member of Durham County Council urging them to reject or delay the deal until further details were confirmed.

A NECA spokeswoman said discussions with Government were ongoing and good progress had been made. An update is expected when the NECA meets on Friday, May 13.

The NAO said devolution deals offered opportunities to stimulate economic growth and reform public services but were untested and Government could do more to “provide confidence that these deals will achieve the benefits intended”.

A Government spokesman said the report recognised the “huge progress made in our revolutionary devolution agenda”, but added: “We agree there is much more to do and we will continue to talk to areas so everywhere that wants to take part in the process can do so.”