Wednesday 22 May 2024
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Nottingham

Residents ‘will not’ face council tax rise to fund new East Midlands council and mayor

Nottinghamshire County Council’s leader has repeated his assurances a new regional council led by an elected mayor will not be funded through a rise in council tax.

Councillor Ben Bradley MP (Con) made the comments after papers suggested the new authority could be paid for through a mayoral precept or a ‘levy’ on councils.

The new East Midlands combined authority is due to be created in full by 2024 after local leaders signed a devolution deal with the Government.

The agreement will create an elected East Midlands Mayor and mean Westminster would give more power to local politicians to make region-wide decisions on how areas like the economy and transport are run.

 

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Documents state: “In practice, it is expected that the running costs of the [combined authority] will be met by either a mayoral precept on council tax bills or a levy on the constituent councils.”

This led to concerns from an opposition and council leader that the move will lead to the current authorities either increasing their own council tax bills to fund the support or risk “cutting services”.

Cllr Bradley leads Nottinghamshire County Council and is also MP for Mansfield.

He has long supported the proposal for East Midlands devolution and has previously said there are no plans to increase council tax through the deal.

The document also reveals a transport plan will be drawn up as one of the first tasks under the new mayoral authority, which is expected to be created in ‘shadow’ format from April next year.

A mayoral election would then be held in May 2024 before a new mayor creates a cabinet and decides how to operate the new combined authority in full.

This would have a representative from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire county councils and Nottingham and Derby city councils.

And it would have two representatives for each county on behalf of their district and borough councils.

A further three representatives would be selected to help determine how the authority spends its budgets, with the Government to provide £1.14bn over 30 years to help leaders fund locally-determined schemes.

But speaking on how the authority will be funded, Cllr Bradley says he doesn’t “expect a tax increase” and said it is something local leaders have agreed on “not doing”.

He described the council tax wording in the full devolution document as “not helpful” and said the city and county councils will contribute to the operations of a new mayoral combined authority on top of Government support.

“It’s probably not helpful phrasing but no, I don’t expect a tax increase for that purpose,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“It’s highly likely councils will contribute to running costs of the combined authority in the future, though the first two years are funded by Government and we’ll obviously push for that to continue for longer.

“But that may well be largely through ‘lending’ or seconding staff as much as financially possible.

“The aim is to utilise as much existing council resource as possible and keep the costs of the combined authority itself as light as we can.

“I am absolutely clear residents shouldn’t expect a mayoral precept or levy to fund the running costs of the combined authority. We’re not doing that.”

He adds the new combined authority is expected to cost about £750,000 in running costs, which would be split between the city and county councils.

And he described this as “not a huge amount of money” for the four councils to share, with existing staffing and services across these authorities to be used for running the new body.

But his comments and the wording of the devolution document have led to concern from Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of Ashfield District Council and the Independent Alliance at County Hall.

He said: “Ben Bradley cannot give any guarantee that council tax won’t go up. If he wants to declare plans to stand as mayor, his opinion would hold more relevance and indeed be binding on him.

“Therefore, this is all a smoke and mirror game. If it’s levied from councils rather than directly through the precept, those councils have to either be cutting services or raising their own precept to fund that budget.

“This is at the worst possible time. It is inevitable residents’ council tax will go up at the time they can least afford it.”

Local leaders are expected to approve a public consultation on devolution in the coming weeks, which is due to run for eight weeks between November 14 and January 9.

This will give residents the opportunity to have their say on the devolution plans and find out more about the wider deal before the ‘shadow’ combined authority is created next year.

This is dependent on MPs approving the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in Parliament next spring, giving consent for the devolution deal to go ahead in full.

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

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