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East Midlands new regional mayor not supported by public – but plans have to go ahead

The idea of a newly elected regional mayor for the East Midlands has failed to win overall public support in a consultation.

The devolution consultation, held between November and January, found 45 per cent of more than 4,800 people surveyed did not want a directly-elected mayoral role to be installed in the region.

This outcome was narrowly higher than the 42 per cent who did support the proposed position, with the remaining 13 per cent saying they ‘don’t know’ if they back the idea.

East Midlands leaders are seeking the maximum devolution deal from Government in a bid to gain as much funding and political power as possible.

Devolution involves more direct planning powers and funds being transferred by Government to town halls and councils to give more control to local politicians.

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However, getting this form of devolution will require a new elected mayor and a new combined council to deliver the plans.

It comes as part of a £1.14bn agreement signed by the Government and Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire leaders to redress historical funding imbalances.

It will bring at least £38m per year for 30 years to invest in transport, skills, environment, public health and housing projects locally.

Similar deals have been signed in neighbouring regions like South Yorkshire and the West Midlands, where directly-elected mayors are already in post.

However, the new consultation figures show that, out of the 4,869 people who took part in the survey, there was no universal support for the political position.

In total, 2,191 people raised concerns about the proposed governance arrangements for devolution, while 2,045 were supportive.

The remaining 633 people were either unsure or could not answer the question – and this was the only area of the consultation that had more objection than support.

Comments in the consultation related to the need for having a regional mayor as well as concerns about how the new combined authority will be run.

But leaders pushing for the deal say a mayor must be appointed regardless of the consultation results due to its importance in getting the full devolution benefits.

If created, the role would have similar powers and profile to the one currently held by Manchester’s Andy Burnham (Lab).

Cllr Ben Bradley (Con), Mansfield’s MP and the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, has previously described the role as “very exciting” – but has not yet confirmed whether or not he would run in any election.

On the consultation results, he said: “It’s only 4,800 residents in a population of 2.2 million and I don’t think you can draw from this that residents are against [having a mayor].

“For us, this is a learning exercise and now we’re going to deal with some of the concerns residents have raised to us.”

He added: “Overall, the consultation agreed with our priorities for the wider deal, which vindicates our decision to take this forward.

“The Government has been clear that we can only achieve this with that kind of structure, you’ve got to have the accountable, elected mayor.”

However, some opposition leaders fear the position is being enforced upon residents without their consent.

Cllr Kate Foale, leader of the Labour Group at County Hall, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It’s not surprising East Midlands residents disapprove of being forced to adopt a mayor.

“But clearly it’s the only way to benefit from the Government’s top-down approach to devolution.

“The whole process smacks of the same old ‘command-and-control’ from Westminster.

“Given the Conservatives are unlikely to allow this consultation to alter their plans, it will be up to residents to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

Other consultation results included 53 per cent of responses agreeing with the deal’s plans to invest money in new transport schemes, compared with 35 per cent who disagreed.

Fifty-two per cent were supportive of investment plans for education and skills, compared with 32 per cent disagreeing.

On both improving the environment and public health plans, 51 per cent agreed with the priorities and 33 per cent disagreed.

And 46 per cent of people agreed with plans to improve housing, compared with 39 per cent disagreeing.

The four leading councils must now accept the consultation results to allow amended proposals for the deal to be drawn up.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill must also be passed through Parliament, allowing for the new combined authority to be created.

The mayoral election can then take place on a scheduled date of May 2024.

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