Nottingham and Nottinghamshire should “snap the Government’s hand off” to get a full devolution deal, County Council Leader and Mansfield MP Ben Bradley has said.
His comments came just weeks after the Government named the city and county as one of nine areas to test its new ‘county deal’ devolution plans.
The announcement, which came in the ‘Levelling Up’ white paper on 3 February, confirmed attempts by all nine city and county authorities to seek more funding and powers had been successful.
Neighbouring Derby and Derbyshire, and Leicestershire, will also be part of the scheme.
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.
But details within the white paper confirmed the city and county will only be handed the most powers if a directly-elected, political mayor is the “accountable” person to use them.
This set-up, similar to those based in areas like Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, would see the mayor given the ultimate control over local services.
The mayoral position would need to be accompanied by a combined authority, which would only incorporate county and city councils when making decisions.
And according to the paper, a maximum of 23 powers could be devolved from Whitehall as part of the devolution plans. Choosing the option with a directly-elected mayor and a combined authority would secure all 23.
The number of powers would reduce down to 11 without the mayoral post, the report confirms. And Cllr Bradley says this level of devolution is roughly what the new ‘county deals’ represent.
But if local leaders chose not to create a new structure and opted to stay with the current system, which operates with the nine councils and a joint committee, just three new powers would be handed from the Government.
There would, however, be “scope to negotiate further powers, on a case-by-case basis”.
And speaking in Nottinghamshire County Council’s budget debate on Thursday ( 24 February ), council leader Cllr Bradley stated the new powers will allow the region to get out of the “shadow” of its neighbours.
But he hinted the best way to do this would be via a route with a combined authority and potentially an elected mayor.
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 that we deserve more for our region – the Government are saying we can have it.
“In fact, they’re saying we can go first and be one of those areas to shape what it looks like and to get the benefits of these powers and funds before anybody else.
“Whether in the 2021 budget when combined authorities got an extra £9 billion in investment compared with other areas or in this year’s local government settlement, it’s clear the Government sees this as the means to distribute funds and level up areas.
“And we’re going to be among the first. Frankly, we should snap their hand off to get it.”
Cllr Bradley recently played down suggestions again over his intention to take the mayoral post, but described the potential role as “exciting”.
However, Cllr Kate Foale, leader of the Labour group in County Hall, says she has concerns about both levelling up and the devolution plans.
Speaking before the council’s budget was approved, she 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 white paper also confirmed district and borough councils would act as “non-constituent members” and would have no power under a potential combined authority.
However, the combined authority – which would see key decisions on funding and projects taken by Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County Council – would be “expected to work closely with their district councils”.
Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of the Independent Alliance in County Hall, has said he will not support the full devolution deal if it reduces the influence and voice of district and borough councils.
Cllr Zadrozny, who is also the leader of Ashfield District Council, said: “It’s high time the Government stopped treating councils like Ashfield as mugs.
“We feel that the maximum devolution deal offered by the Government does exactly that by treating us like second-class citizens.
“Councils like Ashfield will not be bullied and blustered into accepting a deal that is not right for our residents.”
Local leaders will meet via the all-council economic prosperity committee throughout 2022 to decide what form of devolution the city and county will negotiate.