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East Midlands £1.1 billion devolution deal: What happens next?

Following months of negotiations, a devolution deal has been signed and sealed –  but not quite yet delivered – in the East Midlands.

On Tuesday (August 30) pen was put to paper on a £1.14 billion agreement to bring greater spending power and decision-making to local leaders.

And, most significantly, it could lead to the creation of the region’s first-ever directly elected mayor.

The move was described by council bosses as a “really important” step in ‘levelling up’ Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Derby and Derbyshire.

But the finer details of how this will be put into practice are yet to be decided.

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What is the deal?

On paper, the deal promises £38m per year for 30 years to redress previous imbalances. Some figures show the region has consistently been at the bottom of the pile for Government spending and services.

Treasury figures for 2020/21, for example, show total spending in the East Midlands was the lowest of all UK regions at £12,133 per head.

This was almost 10 per cent below the UK average of £13,414 and significantly below the £15,490 figure enjoyed by London.

But how will this deal make a difference to the level of spending made locally?

For a start, it would lead to the creation of a new combined authority – sitting above the city and county councils – to “empower” local leaders to determine how big economic schemes are funded.

This takes away the need to bid to Whitehall for things like major public transport projects, such as integrated ticket schemes.

In general, it allows for more decisions on how cash is handed out to be made by those with local knowledge.

And, according to Nottinghamshire County Council leader and Mansfield’s Conservative MP Ben Bradley, the £1.14bn could become £5-6bn once it has been invested.

He says this initial figure would act as a starting deal, with the region to now compete alongside neighbouring areas like Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire and the West Midlands during Treasury spending reviews.

Eventually, it will fund the linking up of public transport networks across the entire region, create highly-skilled jobs – and offer education and training to help local residents in filling them – and kickstart countless other regional projects.

Will it ‘level up’ the region?

Opposition leaders say the deal doesn’t go far enough to “truly ‘level-up’” the East Midlands – or, in other words, putting it on a more even footing with areas which have previously seen more investment, such as the south east.

The new combined authority – expected to be operational by May 2024 following the first mayoral election – would govern roughly 2.2 million people.

When broken down per head, the annual £38m settlement promises an extra £17.27 for every resident in the two cities and counties each year.

And Councillor Kate Foale, Labour group leader at County Hall, is sceptical, stating this initial figure will leave the region “continuing to play catch-up” with its neighbours.

Cllr Jason Zadrozny, the Ashfield Independent leader of Ashfield District Council, also has concerns and sees the mayoral role as a “new level of bureaucracy”.

Other councils in the region are weighing up the deal presented on Tuesday, with district and borough authorities not getting individual seats at the table of the new combined authority.

However, the overriding theme in statements from local leaders – including Mansfield District Council’s new chief executive Adam Hill – is that the deal is a “potential giant leap in the right direction”.

What happens next?

Getting the deal over the line depends entirely on MPs voting to back the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in Parliament next year.

But there’s no guarantee this will be on the agenda as the Conservative leadership contest concludes this week.

Either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will be Prime Minister by next Monday and could well enforce their own, new vision of ‘levelling up’ with an entirely new cabinet.

Greg Clark, the Secretary of State who signed the the devolution deal on behalf of the Government on Tuesday (August 30), may not even be in the job next week.

But Mr Bradley is optimistic there will be no major change of approach, saying both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak are backing the Levelling Up Bill.

In the meantime, while local leaders await the bill making it through Parliament, they will look closely for the results of a consultation on the plan being held this winter.

After all the effort to get to this point; what do residents think? Has the political rhetoric resonated with people on the street, or does the public not care about devolution?

It’s only once these two steps have passed that we’ll get more details on how the new structure will look.

Spring 2023 to May 2024 would be a pivotal time in setting up projects, governance and departments for the new authority – and the new mayor – to get on with once it’s all been finalised.

And there’s the question of who will actually stand for election to the new role.

Mr Bradley, who has invested considerable political capital in backing the devolution deal, has not officially declared he will stand – but he’s consistently declined to rule it out.

One other thing could also affect how the deal works. The last time it was on the agenda locally, back in 2016, there was no cross-party consensus on how devolution would work.

Now we have leaders from all political parties backing the deal in principle and, like the rest of us, waiting to hear the finer details.

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