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16.03.16

New mayoral devo deals and city deal unveiled, with more on the table

A string of new devolution deals and city deals have been announced by chancellor George Osborne in today’s Budget, including extended packages to counties and southern cities and addendums to existing agreements.

Following six major packages in the last few years, the government today unveiled further mayoral agreements with the West of England, East Anglia and Greater Lincolnshire, all of which have signed deals worth nearly £1bn.

The West of England deal, based in the south west, will see £900m handed down, including a devolved transport budget – including £5m to improve resilience on the Dawlish rail line – and powers over adult skills. Another £19m gained from stamp duty receipts will be sent to community-led housing schemes in areas where the impact of holiday homes is most acute.

In the east, the deal with East Anglia Combined Authority will also comprise a £900m cash pot, with a £175m ring-fenced housing fund, devolved transport and adult skills budgets, and £151m towards building new river crossings. Another £50m will be injected into a new world-leading centre for food and health research, with another £5m earmarked for St Albans City station redevelopments.

The comparatively smaller Greater Lincolnshire deal will include a £450m package, devolved transport budget and more joined-up adult skills and criminal justice system. Cllr Martin Hill, leader of Lincolnshire County Council and the devolution spokesman for the County Councils Network, previously wrote for PSE about the importance of recognising counties amidst the ongoing the 'devolution revolution'.

Today, Hill said in a statement: “This announcement signifies that Greater Lincolnshire is on the road to more local freedom as councils pro-actively work together to chart a new course for the area.

“In Greater Lincolnshire we will have more control of our own future, rather than letting Whitehall decide what’s best for us. As well as unlocking the economic potential of the region, the new arrangements re-unite the historic Greater Lincolnshire area.”

Cllr Neil Clarke, chairman of the District Councils' Network (DCN), added that both the Greater Lincolnshire and the East Anglia deals encompass some 25 district councils, recognising the "key role [they] play in delivering growth".

“We are greatly encouraged that this is the first stage in advancing resources to recognisable economic geographies, where local people can influence decisions that not only affect their own community, but also contribute to the national economy," he said.

According to the Budget report, these deals will mean more than half the population of the north of England will be covered by an elected mayor.

Another set of city deals have also been announced following this year’s Aberdeen package. As expected, a £1.2bn Cardiff city deal (of which Whitehall is contributing £500m) takes the headline, but other agreements are currently being looked at for Edinburgh and South East Scotland, as well as a region deal for Swansea.

An addendum to the Greater Manchester devolution deal, the first to be signed, will also see the region’s criminal justice powers start to be devolved in the coming years – an example of “progressive social policy” that the government is “proud to pioneer”, Osborne said.

And Liverpool, which signed its original deal last year, has been handed a second devolution package. It gives the region new powers over transport, pilots the approach towards 100% business rates retention, and commits to further joined-up working on children’s services, health, housing and justice.

During his speech at the Commons today, the chancellor said: “It was less than two years ago that I called for the creation of strong elected mayors to help us build a Northern Powerhouse. Since then, powerful elected mayors have been agreed for Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, Newcastle and Sheffield.

“Over half of the population of the Northern Powerhouse will be able to elect a mayor accountable to them next year. We will have an elected mayor for the West Midlands too. These new devolution arrangements evolve and grow stronger.

“And I can also announce to the House that today, for the first time, we have reached agreement to establish new elected mayors in our English counties and southern cities too. North, South, East and West – the devolution revolution is taking hold.”

While the IPPR North welcomed these new deals, its researcher Jack Hunter said the institute remains concerned about the “haphazard way that this process is being managed”.

“The deals announced today are small in size and other areas such as Yorkshire, Hampshire and the North Midlands have yet to secure a devolution deal. But at the same time Greater Manchester gets yet more powers and will continue to power ahead of the rest,” he said.

“An asymmetrical approach to devolution is the right one to take but a devolution revolution in England will only be successful if it is developed as a coherent programme and implemented as part of a long-term plan - instead it is currently being undermined by a lack of proper process, with too many discussions held behind closed doors and decisions made on the basis of hidden criteria.”

(Top image c. Stefan Rousseau, PA Wire)

Comments

Peter   17/03/2016 at 08:37

I must be thick but what does this actually mean to Joe Public? Does it mean doing away with all the tiers of local government and just having one? Does it mean less councillors and far fewer pointless meetings? How might it affect local service provision - speed it up? Forgive my cynicism but all I read about devolution says very little about practical issues - no wonder the public are disenchanted with politics and politicians.

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