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Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire councils discussing joint devolution

Councils in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire have started discussions with counterparts in Derbyshire and the Government about creating a mayor and combined authority for the region.

Both counties and cities have been confirmed in the Government’s pilot for devolution ‘county deals’, which could see more powers and funding moved to the region from Whitehall.

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire’s councils applied for their own deal independently of Derby and Derbyshire, with both areas receiving confirmation their bids were successful in the ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper.

The new project could give upper-tier and unitary local councils more ability to shape services like healthcare, public transport, education and skills, strategic planning and public safety.

However, the paper confirmed successful areas will only be handed the most powers available if a directly-elected political mayor is the ‘accountable’ person to use them.

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The mayoral position would need to be accompanied by a combined authority, which would only incorporate county and city councils when making decisions.

This form of devolution, known as a ‘Level Three Mayoral Combined Authority’, would give authorities the maximum 23 powers and funding available through devolution.

A Level Two ‘county deal’, which would involve roughly half the amount of powers and funding, does not require a mayor to be created.

Now councils have confirmed they are in conversations with neighbours in Derbyshire about exploring the idea of a combined authority and mayor for the two cities and counties.

It is not the first time devolution for the East Midlands has been discussed in detail. Councils across both cities and counties were in talks in 2016 about a deal to combine decisions, but the plans stalled.

But a report due before the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Economic Prosperity Committee – which includes leaders of all councils – says choosing this option now “could bring significant benefits to local people”.

The report, which will be debated on Friday (March 18), says: “There have been discussions …  to explore the potential for a Level 3 Mayoral Combined Authority across this geographical footprint.

“Joint working across this wider area is being explored because a level three deal, in collaboration with partners, could bring significant benefits to local people.

“A mayoral combined authority of this scale would compare with areas such as Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, increase our influence nationally and could secure greater powers and funding.

“The East Midlands has received proportionally less government funding and private sector investment for a number of years. It is incumbent upon local partners to explore opportunities to redress this imbalance.”

But the report states it is “too early to say” which form of devolution deal will be negotiated with the Government, stressing regular updates will be provided.

Cllr Ben Bradley MP (Con), leader of the county council and Mansfield’s MP, previously said the councils should “snap” the Government’s hand off to get a full devolution deal.

Speaking at policy committee last month, he said: “Having spent decades complaining we don’t get our fair share of investment, that we’re in the shadow of our partners in the West Midlands and deserve more for our region, the Government are saying we can have it.

“Frankly, we should snap their hand off to get it.”

But opposition leaders have raised concerns about the prospect of a mayor and a new layer of local government.

Cllr Kate Foale, leader of the Labour Group at County Hall, said: “The idea an elected mayor will improve things as we get more highly-conditional ringfenced money, I think, is questionable.

“I’m concerned elected mayors will represent yet more top-down governance, with a local voice disappearing even further down the road.”

Details within the Levelling Up White Paper also confirmed district and borough councils will act as “non-constituent” members of any combined authority, having no decision-making powers.

The combined authority would be expected to work closely with the lower-tier councils, but any negotiations for funding would be undertaken by upper-tier authorities. These are city and county councils.

And Cllr Jason Zadrozny, leader of Ashfield District Council and the Independent Alliance in County Hall, has said he will not support full devolution if it reduces the influence and voice of councils like his.

Leaders will discuss future plans for devolution at Friday’s meeting, with the next steps for negotiations to be outlined in the coming weeks and months.

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