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14.09.15

Nearly half of districts looking to join a combined authority

Nearly half of district councils across England want to join a combined authority, a survey has suggested. 

A survey of the District Councils’ Network’s (DCN’s) 200 members revealed that 47% of districts would look to join a combined authority in an effort to “strengthen local economies” by playing their part in the “drive towards greater devolution of powers”. 

The findings also showed that as many respondents (48%) wanted to see responsibility for economic development devolved downwards to individual district level as wanted these powers to be vested in combined authorities – involving many districts working with their county councils and with local enterprise partnerships and clinical commissioning groups. 

The survey also indicated that districts are especially keen to see highways (65%), infrastructure – digital (58%) and strategic (56%) – and welfare reform (57%) delivered by a combined authority. A further 39% say skills policy would best be delivered by a combined authority. 

More than three-quarters of respondents to the survey said a lack of funding for infrastructure was the main barrier to growth, followed by central government control over funding (54%) and developers sitting on planning permission without building (38%). 

Cllr Neil Clarke, chair of the District Councils’ Network, said: “District councils are determined to bring the fruits of devolution to non-metropolitan parts of England and work with partners to pull the levers of growth and opportunity for the people, places and businesses for which we are responsible. 

“To do so effectively, however, obstacles to growth must be overcome, including the shortage of infrastructure funding, Whitehall’s control over the purse strings for growth schemes and landbanking by developers.” 

Last week it was revealed that the councils that will make up the West Midlands Combined Authority – Birmingham, Sandwell, Walsall, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Solihull and Coventry councils – have submitted their bid to the government. This includes calls for an £8bn devolved package of funds for transport, skills and growth. 

A poll of council chief executives also recently revealed that more than one in five English local authorities expect to become part of a combined authority – governed by an elected mayor – by 2020. But six out of ten of respondents to that poll said their council would be part of a combined authority without any stipulation as to governance arrangements, suggesting that the issue of a mayor is still a sticking point for many authorities.

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