Debate on Hartlepool signing up to devolution deal

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

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The potential benefits and drawbacks of Hartlepool signing up to a devolution deal linked to the creation of a new Tees Valley combined authority were debated by councillors.

The deal with the Government would see an extra £15million a year given to the new authority over 30 years to support economic growth and create jobs.

Create the right conditions to attract business

Gill Alexander, chief executive Hartlepool Borough Council

More powers will be transferred from central government to the new authority which would also have more say on how existing funding is spent locally.

Councillors on Hartlepool’s Finance and Policy Committee yesterday questioned various aspects of the deal including the powers of a new elected mayor of the combined authority due to come into being from next April.

The committee agreed to endorse the devolution deal in principle subject to a number of terms.

They were for Hartlepool council to be involved in writing the new authority’s constitution, preserving investment and economic development in town, and a public information campaign.

Committee chairman and council leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said he was not in favour of politically elected mayors but added it is a “deal breaker” with the Government.

He said: “It is not taking anything away from Hartlepool. Our sovereignty as a borough is going to remain exactly the same as it is now.

“We are going to be part of a decision making body making decisions we previously had no influence over because it was decisions made in Whitehall.”

Independent Seaton Councillor Paul Thompson said the £15m a year between five authorities was nothing compared to recent Government cuts and questioned how the money would create jobs.

Chief Executive Gill Alexander said it would help to create the right conditions to attract business to the area and equip the region’s workforce with the right skills.

Coun Thompson said he supported any investment to the area but added: “I don’t feel I can support it without the people of Hartlepool and other boroughs being given a say or if they are quite happy to be governed and dictated to by a regional mayor.”

Ukip councillor George Springer said the £15m a year was paltry compared to what the region contributes to the UK economy and added: “I just feel there are so many unknowns.”

Deputy Mayor Coun Kevin Cranney said: “If we haven’t got our foot in the door and aren’t sat at the table we will get nothing.”

Coun Jim Lindridge added: “If we think we can benefit we have got to get the best deal for Hartlepool.”

The deal will be debated by full council on Thursday.