The path appears to be clearing for County Durham to join a multi-billion devolution deal that will create a new North East mayor.

A massive deal that would reshape the region’s political landscape and deliver a raft of new funding and decision-making powers has been shrouded in uncertainty for weeks.

But councils could now finally be edging towards a resolution on the agreement, which would potentially see a mayor elected in 2024 to govern a massive area that could stretch all the way from Berwick to Barnard Castle.

Talks between local leaders and Whitehall officials over a package worth more than £3bn covering Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, and Sunderland have been ongoing for months and an agreement has been close since the final days of the Boris Johnson administration. 

Its progress was hampered by two Government collapses in quick succession and then thrown into new doubt when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition leadership at Durham County Council decided in October that it wanted to join the deal too, having earlier been pursuing a single-county deal instead.

Read more: Meeting on County Durham's future as part of North East devolution

That sparked a political dilemma as the Labour-led councils in Tyne and Wear are known to have been split on whether to allow Durham in. 

Doing so would pit them against Labour MPs and opposition councillors in Durham, who have been fiercely critical of a proposal that they claim would leave their county “feeding on scraps”.

However, while the agreement is not yet done, the stance of council leaders unsure about Durham’s involvement appears to have softened – and Michael Gove, recently restored to his post as levelling up secretary by Rishi Sunak, is thought to clearly favour a deal covering the whole region.

Sources have told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Labour councillors around the Tyne and Wear boroughs will be asked to consider a deal involving all seven councils at political group meetings next week, with that arrangement now seeming to be the likeliest outcome of the negotiations.

Meanwhile, the contentious subject is also due to be debated at a Durham County Council meeting next Wednesday.

If a deal between the seven authorities is agreed, it would reunite the councils who were agonisingly close to signing a previous devolution deal in 2016 before it collapsed at the eleventh hour.

Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland subsequently broke away to form their own North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA), for which Labour’s Jamie Driscoll was elected mayor in 2019.

He has already declared that he would seek Labour’s nomination for a North East mayor role, while Northumbria Police and Commissioner Kim McGuinness is also rumoured to be eyeing the job.

Details of the draft deal being worked on before Durham’s involvement included a £35m per year investment fund, a £900m transport funding package up to 2027, a yearly £44m budget for adult education and skills, and crucial decision-making powers including the ability to bring bus services back into public control.

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