The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council has stressed the neighbouring city council is a “key partner” in countywide devolution plans despite the cash-strapped council not providing any initial financial contributions.
Documents approved by the county council’s policy committee on Thursday (December 2) confirm the eight Nottinghamshire councils – all seven district and boroughs and the county – have provided cash contributions toward the bid.
However, struggling Nottingham City Council has not provided any funds towards the £450,000 pot – instead offering “in-kind” rather than financial support.
The council has confirmed its commitment to the project, but confirmed its contributions do contain no “funding implications”.
All Nottinghamshire councils provided their sums through the shared business rates pool, with funding set aside to be used by the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Economic Prosperity Committee for plans such as devolution.
Nottingham City Council does not have access to this pool of funding.
The contributions amount to £180,000 from Nottinghamshire County Council – or 40 per cent – with each district and borough authority providing £38,571 to make up the remaining £270,000.
It will go towards a new team of eight people to put together and plan the case for devolution, including a programme manager, a senior communications officer, four project officers and two business support administrators.
The new roles will be hosted by the county council for an initial 12 months, costing £310,000, with £100,000 spent on the project budget, £10,000 on expenses and £30,000 on communications.
Councillors were told communications will be key to expanding the devolution plans, with the authorities planning to gather the public’s views on how the potential Government package could look.
However, some councillors raised concerns at Nottingham City Council’s lack of financial contribution, worrying the cash-strapped authority “isn’t pulling its weight”.
A Government-appointed improvement board has told the authority to produce a balanced budget for the next four years by March next year, with the council needing to make £38 million in savings in the process.
This could prevent Whitehall inspectors from taking over the Labour-run administration.
And Councillor Francis Purdue Horan (Ind), who represents Bingham East, believes there is cause for concern over the city’s contributions.
He said: “I am concerned it’s probably not the case all councils can afford the financial contributions.
“[On] the in-kind contributions Nottingham City Council will be providing, can we get the assurance no other resource will be taken out of other authorities further down the line?
“I was stopped by a constituent last week and was asked: ‘Is this a back door plan to somehow mitigate the levels of debt Nottingham City Council has on its books?’.
“I think that sort of concern is agreed with a lot of other people.”
However, in response, Cllr Ben Bradley (Con), leader of the county council and Mansfield MP, stressed the city council has already made contributions to the plan and will play an important role.
Last week he told full council Cllr David Mellen (Lab), leader of the city council, met with the Government alongside himself and Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind) to discuss the devolution bid.
Speaking in policy committee on Thursday, Cllr Bradley added: “We’re very keen for Nottingham City Council to be a key partner in this work.
“We want to work closely with them and I really welcome how they have approached this.
“I recognise they haven’t got any money, so it is challenging from that perspective, but they do have significant expertise and they do have the abilities to support ways this can work.
“There is no sense that district or borough councils are going to be asked to fund things in the absence of the city being able to do so.”
Commenting on the concerns raised, Cllr Mellen (Lab), leader of the city council, says the authority is providing contributions through a “virtual team of existing staff”.
He said: “We are fully committed towards collaboration on devolution and see the longer-term benefits for the city, so will be engaged throughout the work programme.
“We will be providing ‘in kind’ contributions towards the programme through a virtual team of existing staff, which has no funding implications.”
If the councils are able to secure a devolution deal, it would grant more local decision-making powers on policy issues like healthcare, transport, infrastructure and planning.
Other areas of the country, including the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire, have benefited from having devolution deals and secured significant Government funding on major projects – including several in October’s Budget.