People in County Durham will join thousands of others in the North East later this week to vote for a new mayor. 

Residents will take to the polls on Thursday to decide who will head the newly-formed North East Combined Authority and represent the region on the national stage. 

The new mayor will serve a population of around two million people across County Durham,  Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

A multi-billion pound devolution deal was agreed with the Government and will see the region handed new funding and decision-making powers over areas like transport and housing.

Who are the candidates? 

Labour’s Kim McGuinness, Conservative Guy Renner-Thompson, independent Jamie Driscoll, the Green Party’s Andrew Gray, Liberal Democrat Aidan King, and Reform UK’s Paul Donaghy. 

What does County Durham think?

Consultation feedback from residents, businesses, the voluntary and community sector groups in County Durham was positive, and in agreement with the proposed governance changes. There was particularly strong support for devolution around transport, skills, employment and adult education. 

However, there was a perception by some that the governance proposals would lead to greater bureaucracy and cost for local residents, with the role of the Elected Mayor also questioned. 

A concern raised by residents in County Durham is how decisions made on Tyneside and Wearside will impact their communities. Several debate-style hustings events have been held in the run-up to the election, but of those held in County Durham, only one has taken place outside of Durham City. 

How will it impact County Durham?

Candidates reassured residents at an event in Barnard Castle in March by saying the county will be equally represented through its decision-making powers and investment

Durham County Council will be the largest local authority in the LA7 deal and will have an influential voice on how funding will be spent across all sectors, said council leader Amanda Hopgood. 

Previously talking up the benefits of devolution, Cllr Hopgood said: “The proposed deal would see a significant shift of powers, funding and responsibility from central government to our region.”

What was the alternative?

Not everyone in County Durham wanted to be included in the deal, however. Labour members repeatedly called for Durham County Council to favour a county-only deal in order to prioritise the region and labelled the deal it signed as a “missed opportunity”. 

County Durham Labour Party leader Carl Marshall accused the coalition in charge of the council of being ‘incompetent’ for denying the chance of securing a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ county deal. 

Cllr Marshall said: “We had the chance to become masters of our own destiny, make investment decisions that impact on County Durham in County Durham and set our own agenda away from Whitehall politicians, but all they’ve done is swap governance in London for governance in Tyneside.

The Northern Echo: County Durham Labour leader cllr Carl MarshallCounty Durham Labour leader cllr Carl Marshall

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“A county deal, which Labour fought for, would have meant all investment could have been directly targeted at helping our communities, without having to make our case to a mayor overseeing everything from the Borders to Barnard Castle.”

The Government is reported to have said County Durham would receive more funding as part of the North East devolution rather than its own deal. 

Polls open at 7am on Thursday, May 2 and close at 10pm. The result is due to be announced on Friday, May 3.