A long-awaited £1.4bn devolution deal for the North East was announced at last on Wednesday.

Confirmation that the deal has been agreed with the Government comes after years of wrangling and disagreement, while it is set to lead to major changes in the region’s political landscape.

A new mayor is due to be elected in 2024 to serve the two million people living in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and County Durham.

And there will be major powers and funding coming our way, including the ability to bring bus services under public control.

Here is everything you need to know about what the devolution deal and how it affects you.

What is a devolution deal?

A number of devolution deals have been struck across England over recent years, transferring powers and funding from national to local government – covering issues including transport, housing, and skills.

This has been done via the creation of mayoral combined authorities, bodies formed by local councils coming together and overseen by an elected mayor.

The idea has been pushed by Conservative-led Governments since 2010, devolving a series of powers and funding to areas including the North of Tyne, Tees Valley, Greater Manchester, and Liverpool City Region.

What do we have in the North East now?

There is already a mayoral combined authority here, in the North of Tyne – which covers Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland.

Assuming the new deal is approved, that authority would come to an end in 2024 and be superseded by the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority covering Gateshead, County Durham, Sunderland and South Tyneside too.

Somewhat confusingly, there is currently a separate North East Combined Authority (NECA) as well – made up of Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and County Durham. But it has no mayor and no devolution deal. NECA would also cease to exist if the new mayoral authority is approved.

The Tees Valley also has its own mayoral combined authority, where Conservative Ben Houchen is the mayor.

Does this mean no more local councils?

No. Your local council will still exist and have the same responsibilities it does now – everything from social care to bin collections.

But each of the seven councils will be represented on the combined authority, which will have access to extra powers and funding that we don’t currently have here.

What powers and funding will the combined authority have?

There is a long list of powers and funding that would be devolved to the region, the total value of which is being estimated at £4.2bn.

They include:

An investment fund of £1.4bn, or £48m a year over three decades;

An indicative budget of around £1.8bn, or £60m a year, for adult education and skills;

A £900m package of investment to transform our transport system, with £563m from the City Regional Sustainable Transport Fund on top of funding previously announced money for the region’s buses and Metro system;

The power to bring the North East’s bus network under public control;

£69m of investment in housing and regeneration, unlocking sites to bring forward new housing and commercial development;

The deal is also expected to include the creation of a ‘green superport’, while ministers have agreed to further talks that could see the North East granted the same ‘trailblazer’ devolution status being given to Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

It is hoped that the deal can create 24,000 new jobs, deliver 70,000 courses per year to give people the skills to gain good employment, and leverage £5bn of private sector investment.

When will the mayor be elected and who will it be?

A mayoral election is scheduled for May 2024 and all registered voters in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham will be able to cast a vote.

The region’s political parties will set about choosing their candidates next year and none are confirmed at this stage.

But the Labour Party nomination, the winner of which would surely be the favourite to win the mayoral election, is widely expected to be a fight between the current North of Tyne mayor, Jamie Driscoll, and the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness.

A long-standing issue that has made some of the region’s leaders cautious about a devolution deal is the fear of the authority being based in and dominated by Newcastle, so it will be interesting to see if candidates for the mayor’s role emerge from other areas – with both Mr Driscoll and Ms McGuinness being ex-Newcastle councillors.

Some of the region’s Labour or Conservative MPs might fancy a run at the job. The likes of Andy Burnham and Tracy Brabin stepped down from Parliament to become metro mayors in their regions.

Prominent business leaders are also worth keeping an eye on. Businessman Charlie Hoult was the Tories’ North of Tyne candidate in 2019 and John McCabe, now chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, stood as an independent. 

Haven’t we been here before?

Yes, a similar North East devolution deal was on the verge of being done in 2016 – there had even been a signing ceremony with the then-Chancellor George Osborne.

But it collapsed at the eleventh hour, with Gateshead the first area to say no before then being joined in pulling out by the other three councils south of the Tyne. That led to Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland breaking away to secure their own North of Tyne devolution deal.

Martin Gannon, Gateshead’s Council leader, said at the time that the deal on the table in 2016 “does not represent genuine devolution, poses a threat to democracy and proposes governance that lacks accountability”.

The lesson to learn from that is that this deal isn’t done until every ‘t’ is crossed and every ‘i’ is dotted.

So, why is this happening again now?

Since 2020, the Government has made clear that reuniting the North East councils under an elected mayor is the only way the region will get the powers and money it wants.

Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of funding for transport has been promised, but the Government has said it will only hand out that money if a new devolution deal is done.

The prospect of missing out on that, plus the other investment on offer, is what has brought more sceptical council leaders back into the discussions.

Do the people get a say on whether to accept the devolution deal?

There will be a public consultation on the devolution deal, but not a public vote on whether to accept it – that decision will be made by the seven councils involved.

You may recall that there was a referendum held in the North East back in 2004 about a different kind of devolution, the proposed creation of a regional assembly. That was overwhelmingly rejected by the public, with 77.9% of voters saying no to the idea.