Nottinghamshire County Council Leader, Councillor Ben Bradley says that becoming a Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) could bring the East Midlands “the same kind of clout, devolved funding and economic potential” that other regions have gained from devolution.
Mr Bradley, who also represents Mansfield as a Member of Parliament (MP), says that “it feels very much that we have missed out on [devolution] in the last few years” and used the West Midlands as an example of a successful settlement.
His comments come as council leaders in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, including the cities of Derby and Nottingham, submitted an initial proposal to negotiate a devolution deal with the government last month.
It came after Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were named as two of nine ‘pathfinder’ areas in the government’s Levelling Up White Paper, which saw local leaders being asked to put forward a vision for devolved powers and improved services in their area.
If the bid is approved, the area would become an MCA and have a directly elected mayor, as nine currently have across England, namely:
- Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
- Greater Manchester
- Liverpool City Region
- North of Tyne
- South Yorkshire (formerly Sheffield City Region)
- Tees Valley
- West Midlands
- West of England
- West Yorkshire
Mr Bradley says a devolution deal would be used to “create jobs, improve infrastructure and grow the local economy”.
Home to 2.2 million residents, an East Midlands MCA would be the third biggest in the country and Mr Bradley wants to go for a top-level deal, saying that “there's no reason we shouldn't be playing in the Premier League”, adding:
“Frankly, we could go for some kind of lower level less ambitious plan, but when all the stars are aligned with everything that that government says about devolution, that this is the way if you want the maximum funding, you want the maximum support, this is what you've got to do.
“Then for us, we need to go and tick those boxes, because there’s no point spending all this time moaning about it and then when we're offered it, saying anything other than ‘yes please, can we get on with it?’”
An MP since 2017, Mr Bradley was elected council leader in May 2022 and says in standing for the position his intention was to “try and join” the two roles together and make sure that what was being done locally “chimed with government's priorities”, resulting in things getting done more quickly and efficiently.
With the East Midlands being the only region of England not having an MCA, Mr Bradley says he would “never close the door” on an expanded regional authority including Leicester and Leicestershre, saying:
“I think there's an economic sense in that kind of East Midlands geography, but for the time being politicians in Leicestershire aren’t involved in that discussion and that's their choice.
He says that the relationship between the councils involved in the bid to become an MCA is a “really positive partnership”, saying “it's a good geography for us to start and get something done and over the line”.
“We've certainly got a shared ambition in our area, now is how we want to improve services, what kind of jobs you want to bring in, where we want to invest.
“I think that puts us in a really good place and the collaboration has been really positive, really strong.”
Working together is vital in achieving devolution and if an East Midlands MCA is approved, none of the area’s council’s will lose any powers, which is a key process in bringing people together:
“If you want to build something new in a way that brings people with you, rather than alienate people, you've got to work together and we've tried really hard to do that,” he says.
His advice for other area’s bidding for devolution is to “make sure that devolved powers can complement what we can do already, rather than putting people's noses out of joint”.
Mr Bradley uses Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen as an example of how a directly elected mayor can benefit an area, saying that he has “been able to really coordinate and bring in a huge amount of investment”.
He compares this to the current system in place in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, which has a total of 19 indirectly elected council leaders, saying that the area “really do stand to benefit from a more coherent structure”.
Now into his second term as an MP and a council leader for the past year, would Mr Bradley like to become the East Midlands’ first directly elected mayor?
“I don't know to be honest, I think it'd be a really interesting job. I think whoever does it will have a huge opportunity to really change things and improve things. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it.”
However, with such a position not likely to be in place for at least the next 18 months, he says he will “cross that bridge when we come to it”.
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