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Devolution risks being ‘undermined’ if Whitehall tries to performance-manage mayors

The LGA is currently developing a self-assessment diagnostic to help new mayoral combined authorities (CAs) assess their own functioning, rather than being subject to a Whitehall-imposed performance management regime.

The measure, mentioned in an LGA Leadership Board report on combined authorities and elected mayors in England, is designed to pre-empt central government’s potential desire to assess the governance of mayoral CAs, which the LGA warns may “undermine” the new authorities.

Wishing to establish itself as the “obvious home” for new directly-elected mayors, the LGA has also proposed that that a package of support be put in place for new mayors such as customised support for mayoral candidates and the set-up of a commonwealth mayoral network.

“It has been recognised that CAs may want to develop an approach to benchmarking and evaluation of impact with other CAs to support self-improvement,” the report said.

“There is also the risk that Whitehall may start to develop its own performance management regime as devolved powers increase, undermining the significant gains in sector-led improvement made to date.”

The measure is designed to support the country’s seven confirmed mayoral CAs which are due to hold elections this May, including Greater Manchester, the West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

While each devolution deal has bespoke elements, the common powers that have been devolved to the new mayors include powers over local transport funding, the adult skills budget and each area’s post-16 further education systems.

“The shift in power from central government to local government is bringing about new challenges for political leaders and senior officers in relation to local policy formulation, with many taking greater responsibility for policy development across a much wider geography and across different agencies and partnerships,” the report added.

The LGA has expressed its hopes that its work on the self-assessment diagnostic could later lead to a ‘peer challenge methodology’ for combined authorities, building on the successful similar model that already exists between local councils.

Elsewhere in the report, the LGA raised concerns over the effects of Brexit on the new combined authorities as they will also temporarily have the ability to manage EU funds in their areas such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF).

The LGA said that it is currently designing a proposal for a local regeneration fund for authorities after the UK leaves the EU, arguing that a domestic successor to the ERDF will be of “particular importance” to local combined authorities.

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