Derbyshire county councillors have unanimously agreed to push forward with plans to form a strategic alliance between councils in the East Midlands.
The debate at yesterday’s full council, on Wednesday, September 12, was prompted by a motion from Conservative council leader, Cllr Barry Lewis.
He has proposed that the authority supports a plan, in principle, to form an East Midlands “strategic alliance” between seven top-tier councils.
This would see Derbyshire County Council; Derby City Council; Nottinghamshire County Council; Nottingham City Council; Leicestershire County Council; Leicester City Council; and Lincolnshire County Council join forces.
It could see the authorities sharing services across borders in a bid to save money – much like how Derbyshire, Derby, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire are already forming a joint adoption agency.
The strategic alliance would not be a formal merger, but an agreement between the councils to work together more closely and to present a united front in bidding for more investment in the East Midlands.
Cllr Lewis said there was a “new found optimism and flexibility from Government in terms of a future models like the strategic alliance”.
He said: “Across the East Midlands, councils of all sizes and scales are facing significant ongoing budget pressures and recognise there is a need to work together to find solutions to ensure we deliver services for the public benefit on a more efficient footprint.”
It is thought that the crux of improvements would focus on highways and infrastructure.
The plan, first mooted in April, could lead to devolved powers from central government to give the alliance more authority over how money is spent in the region.
Labour leader Cllr Anne Western said: “We voted for the motion because we support the principle of having stronger powers locally to drive economic growth.
“However, the agenda is confused because of the strategic alliance being used to push for unitary councils in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, which is causing conflict between the counties and districts.
“I also don’t believe that the Government is interested in supporting this model. They only seem to care about creating elected mayors for cities and other areas get little attention.
“We already know that the East Midlands gets far less funding funding for transport and infrastructure than anywhere else in the country. So I’m not hopeful that the Government will be paying this any attention, other that with warm words.”
It is hoped that the alliance will help match the “weight and clout” of the West Midlands Combined Authority – formed last May – but stops short of forming its own East Midlands version, and again, short of merging into a “super council”.
The alliance would also bring in the region’s Local Enterprise Partnerships and Chambers of Commerce to further push for investment in the East Midlands.
Cllr Tony King, cabinet member for economic development and regeneration, said during the debate: “It would give us a single voice and secure more money for the region, as well as powers devolved from central Government.”
He felt that the proposal would make sure the region can punch above its weight and that it is “the key to a prosperous future”.
Cllr Lewis said that the emphasis was on getting value for money for the region’s taxpayers.
District and borough councils would not have a seat at the table and would have to speak through their relevant upper-tier authority.
Cllr Paul Smith, Labour, felt some aspects of the proposed alliance are worthwhile, such as infrastructure and investment, but hopes it’s not “local government reorganisation by stealth”.
Cllr Kevin Butter, who is also the leader of Amber Valley Borough Council, has previously stated that he would accept any local government reorganisation that would increase efficiency.
He said during the debate: “The strategic alliance might not end up being the solution but it’s a positive start.”