Wednesday 17 April 2024
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East Midlands Combined County Authority’s first meeting held

Councillors called for unity across political divides and representation for rural areas, alongside cities, in the first meeting of a new East Midlands super council.

The first meeting of the new East Midlands Combined County Authority, making decisions on behalf of more than two million people, took place in Chesterfield Town Hall on 19 March.

This new council brings together leadership from Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire to oversee more than two billion pounds of annual funding given to the new council directly from central Government over the next 30 years.

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Its funding focuses on key areas devolved from the Government including transport, skills and education, housing and brownfield land supply, and reaching net zero, with £2 million to spend setting up small projects over the next couple of months.

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A directly-elected mayor will eventually govern the new super council from May with a public vote for that post to take place on Thursday, May 2, with longer-term budgets, plans and strategies to be formed following their appointment.

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Cllr Barry Lewis, leader of Derbyshire County Council, was voted to chair the first meeting, backed by Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council leaders Cllr David Mellen and Cllr Ben Bradley.

District and borough councils from both counties have two representatives per county on a shadow board for now, with potential plans to give them voting rights in the future.

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Today’s meeting saw all-Labour representation for the districts and boroughs.

Cllr Tricia Gilby, Chesterfield Borough Council leader, and Cllr Anthony McKeown, High Peak Borough Council leader, represented the Derbyshire districts and boroughs.

Meanwhile, Cllr Paul Peacock, Newark and Sherwood District Council leader, and Cllr Milan Radulovic, Broxtowe Borough Council leader, represented the Nottinghamshire districts and boroughs.

Cllr Lewis said the meeting was the “culmination of an awful lot of work”, saying “it has been quite a journey but one that is worth all the challenges” and today marks the “end of the beginning”.

He said despite political differences the new authority would bring leaders together with “the same shared purpose, to do what is best for residents across our region”.

Cllr Lewis said the East Midlands region has been persistently underfunded and hopes the new council will turn this around, saying “the mayor will be a powerful voice on a national stage”.

Cllr Gilby welcomes districts and boroughs being given a spot on a shadow board but now requires voting rights to give “parity” of representation.

She said “We have failed if we need to take a vote” saying the new council relied on cooperation but still sits in a political system.

Jodie Townsend, interim monitoring officer for the authority, said the Government was looking at legislation for districts and boroughs to be able to be given voting rights, but the new council would then need to vote to introduce this, with the national decision due in the next three to six months.

Cllr Lewis said he hoped the new authority would “require minimal voting”.

Cllr Bradley said the creation of the new council had required “lots of cross-party working” and would rely on “consensus” going forward.

Mark Kenyon, the new super council’s interim finance lead said the authority’s funding this year would total £56 million, of which £46 million will be spent and £10 million rolled over for next year.

He confirmed the cost of the mayoral election would cost £3-4 million and that a longer-term budget would be created following their appointment.

Cllr Baggy Shanker, Derby City Council leader, said: “This investment is much needed in the region. These huge sums of money need to be invested sensibly.”

He said the investment was needed to address the impact of austerity measures on the region, which he claimed had cost Derby City an estimated £1 billion in terms of lost funding.

Cllr Lewis said: “Every local authority in this room has voiced concerns about council budgets at some point, facing significant deficits in-year and significant savings to be made.”

Cllr Bradley said he is often challenged by constituents about how the new council would represent all areas of each county, saying: “It isn’t just about the cities, it is also about rural areas.”

He said the authority would not need to depend on ring-fenced Government funding which it would need to make fit into its plans and could instead design funding for each area to match its aims.

Cllr Bradley, who is also Mansfield’s MP, said: “It takes decisions away from Whitehall and closer to where we live.”

Cllr Mellen said: “We absolutely need to reach the corners of our rural areas but we also need to recognise where the drivers of our economy are to help our economy grow the fastest.”

He said this would also need to bear in mind that many people who work in the Derby and Nottingham do not live there.

Cllr Mellen is to step down as Nottingham City Council leader and Cllr Lewis thanked him for his leadership, dubbing him a “great man” who “works very hard for the residents of Nottingham city”.

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