A council leader has said she believes a region-wide devolution deal will bring in more money for Durham than going it alone as a county.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood, leader of the joint administration at Durham County Council, spoke of the decision "in principle" to join a wider devolution deal with six other areas in the North East.

She said the council had followed the proper process and would consult on the deal, with the Labour opposition arguing the matter needed to be debated further.

She also denied there had been a "secret deal" or change of mind, and said suggestions of losing £147m for transport from the decision were simply false. 

Read more: Devolution - Durham decides to go into region-wide 'LA7' deal

She told a full council meeting on Wednesday (October 20): "As I'm sure you'll all be aware, we are currently in discussions with the LA6 authorities and the Government regarding a potential devolution deal.

"The Secretary of State asked us to advise him by Friday, October 14 of whether we wish to join the LA6 devolution arrangements.

"And I can confirm that we have agreed in principle that we would like to work with the LA6 authorities to create a regional deal.

"This is an in-principle decision and is subject to further ongoing discussions with our regional colleagues and the Government. Any deal would also be subject to the consideration by cabinet prior to consultation.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.

"Our primary aim is, and always is, to ensure the best possible deal for the people of County Durham and this is what we will working to achieve during these conversations."

Cllr Joanne Howey asked: "Is it true that if we go in for this devolution deal with the LA6 that we'll probably get a lot more money that we would if we stay as just the single voted mayor in?"

Cllr Hopgood responded: "The confidentiality relates to the detail. The simple answer to that is at this moment, we believe, yes."

Labour councillors questioned the decision. Group leader Cllr Carl Marshall called for it to be debated "properly, openly and transparently" at a special meeting.

He asked: "Can the leader of the council please explain why she's changed her mind on her approach to devolution and proposing to take a rural county into a city-focused regional deal rejecting the Government's offer from a year ago to put County Durham's interests first in agreeing a single county deal?

"And will she commit to calling an extraordinary council meeting in November so that all councillors across the county can debate and vote on our preferred position before she walks County Durham into a secret deal against the will of our communities and without a political mandate from this council?"

The Northern Echo: Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo. (Image: Northern Echo, Newsquest)

Cllr Hopgood replied: "There's no secret deal. There's a difference between secrecy and confidentiality and at the moment you should know that that's what exists when you're working with deals like this.

"There is no change of mind. Within the White Paper there is a option of a county deal and I've always said that we would look at what was best for County Durham.

"You were invited to a meeting last week where we could have given you those details.

"We are following the protocols and the process that is set down by Government on all devolution deals and doing exactly what every other local authority is doing.

"The process is that a cabinet report will come, and you're more than welcome to attend cabinet, though I appreciate it's something that you haven't done for quite a number of months."

Read more: Opposition slams 'complete U-turn' of devolution deal

Deputy Labour group leader Cllr Rob Crute added: "I do think we need to debate this, not just for members in this hall but on behalf of the people we represent."

Helen Lynch, head of legal and democratic services, said: "There is a process to be followed which will allow for member consideration, but this is questions, not debate. The issue of extraordinary meeting needs to be dealt with outside this forum."

Cllr Fraser Tinsley asked whether there would be consultation with "the 520,000-odd people who live in County Durham who may have an interest in this, one of the biggest decisions that will be made", and referred to the 77% vote against an elected regional assembly in a 2004 referendum.

Cllr Hopgood said there would be consultation and the 2004 proposal was a "quite a different scenario to this".

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Cllr Olwyn Gunn asked about Labour's leader and councillors' residents not being informed about the discussions, "or for this to have been raised in this chamber as to what is going on".

Cllr Hopgood answered: "The leader of your group was invited to a meeting. He has been invited to meetings previously about this. If you don't come I can't help you."

Cllr Charlie Kay asked: "There's £147m on the table at the moment for transport in County Durham and a good element of that will go towards cycling, walking and other transport infrastructures.

"As I understand it, and correct me if I'm wrong, this money will be lost if we go into a regional deal with the LA6. Is that true or is that false?"

Cllr Hopgood replied: "It's false."

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