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04.09.17

LGA demands devolution report release as ‘stalled’ process missing vital opportunities

Economic growth opportunities are being missed across England because of the stalled devolution process, which has left many areas in limbo, it has been claimed.

Today marks two years since the government’s deadline for devolution deals to be submitted, which saw over 30 proposals from towns, cities and counties sent into the DCLG. But since then, the LGA has stated that the process has “stalled” with no deals announced in the last 18 months.

The association, which represents local authorities in England and Wales, has called on the government to publish its annual devolution report when Parliament returns after its summer recess.

It successfully lobbied for the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act to include a duty on the secretary of state to provide annual reports to Parliament setting out progress on devolution across England as soon as possible after 31 March. This year’s report has yet to be published.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said that local authorities want to see their communities reap the benefits of having greater powers and funding to build more homes, secure the infrastructure essential to economic growth, improve roads, equip people with the skills they need to succeed and increase access to fast and reliable digital connectivity for all.

“But there are concerns that devolution discussions have stalled and opportunities are being missed,” he added. “To reignite the devolution process, the government needs to engage in a debate about appropriate governance arrangements with local areas.

Earlier this year, the election of six combined authority mayors across the country marked a milestone step for devolution in England. But the deal in Sheffield city region has currently hit the blocks, with two members of the combined authority pulling out of the plan, and a ‘coalition of the willing’ being formed to develop a pan-Yorkshire deal. However, the northern powerhouse minister has suggested the only deal on the table is the one in South Yorkshire.

Recently, Lord Kerslake, LGA president and the former head of the Civil Service, stated that there has never been a more important time for devolution and that it “needs to go beyond the current crop of deals already agreed”.

“And powers that come back through Brexit need to be given to local government as well as Whitehall,” he added.

Today, chancellor Philip Hammond will be hosting his first summit with the metro mayors of Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Tees Valley to discuss the issue of stimulating productivity across the north.

Ahead of the visit to Leeds, Hammond said that boosting productivity in the north is at the very heart of the government’s ambition to build an economy that works for everyone.

“As we prepare to leave the European Union it is even more important that we support the Northern Powerhouse to reach its full potential,” he said. “That’s why we are investing record amounts in infrastructure, and working with metro mayors to encourage growth and create opportunities throughout the north.”

Reflecting on devolution post-Brexit, the LGA stated that it has become “even more important” for the government to ensure the whole nation benefits from the EU exit.

But a spokesman for the DCLG promised that the government is 100% committed to devolving powers to local areas where there is strong local support for plans to deliver better local services, greater value for money and clear accountability.

“Next year, people in Sheffield city region will elect a powerful mayor with around £1bn of new government investment and a range of new powers,” they added. “We also announced in July that we will begin talks with the West Midlands mayor Andy Street to agree a further devolution package for the area.” 

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Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this feeling of imminent change than the article James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, has penned for us on p28. In it, he highlights... read more >