Monday 4 March 2024
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Should Nottingham and Nottinghamshire have its own elected Mayor?

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire will only feel the full benefits of a potential devolution deal if the area creates an elected mayor, government papers have revealed.

Nottinghamshire County Council leader Ben Bradley, also Mansfield’s Conservative MP, admitted councils would be the “a bit daft” not to consider this option but says the decision is not his alone to make.

The Government published its long-awaited ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper on Wednesday, setting out plans for wide-ranging devolution powers to be handed to local leaders.

Supporters of the plan say it will give greater spending power and more decision-making to local areas, while reducing Westminster’s control on some major regional projects.

But local Labour leaders say an elected mayor idea has been rejected in Notts before, and will be too ‘top down’, while an independent council leader said he feared the plan would lead to the scrapping of district and borough councils.

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As part of Wednesday’s announcement, the city and county have been selected among nine areas to negotiate what the Conservative-led Government is describing as new ‘county deals’.

Neighbouring Derby and Derbyshire, and Leicestershire, will also be part of the scheme.

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

But papers released on Wednesday confirm 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.

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

District and borough councils would act as “non-constituent members” and would have no power, but the combined authority would be “expected to work closely with their district councils”.

According to the White Paper, a maximum of 23 powers could be devolved from Whitehall as part of devolution. Choosing the option with a directly-elected mayor would secure all 23.

This includes mayoral oversight for the police and crime commissioner role, currently held in Notts by Caroline Henry (Con).

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.

And there would also be “scope to negotiate further powers, on a case-by-case basis”, the report adds.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service following the paper’s release, Cllr Bradley said there is a major decision to be made.

He said: “The county deal option is in there, we can tick that box because we’ve got it.

“This option would be good just to be able to draw down what is, quite often, tightly ring-fenced money into a local pot for us to decide what to do with it.

“Clearly the document also says though, that if you want significant economic clout, any extra money, you need a combined authority and a mayor.

“I think we’d be a bit daft not to at least have a conversation about the rest, but that’s not a decision I can make.”

When asked whether he would consider running for the mayoral role if it became available, Mr Bradley said the job would be “really exciting for whoever takes it on”.

However, he said there’s “a lot of water to cross” before the post becomes a reality.

But the proposals have led to concerns from opposition leaders, who fear the devolution offer represents a “centralised, top-down imposition”.

Cllr Kate Foale, leader of the Labour group at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “For years councils have been strung along by this Conservative Government, promising that local voices would be heard on devolution.

“Consistently, representatives from all political views across Nottinghamshire have rejected a mayoral system imposed by Westminster, but that is exactly the type of centralised, top-down imposition we’ve been offered.”

Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of the Independent Alliance and Ashfield District Council, added: “The Levelling Up White Paper contains 12 pledges to address 12 failures in 12 years of a Conservative Government.

“It states its aim is to devolve power but it does the opposite. Make no mistake, this is the first step to abolishing the local councils we all hold so dear.”

The Nottingham and Nottinghamshire economic prosperity committee, which is made up of leaders from all nine local councils, has been leading on devolution.

Leaders will meet in private on Friday (February 4) to discuss Wednesday’s announcement.

Below are the three options the committee can take, including the powers they would be given as outlined by the Levelling Up White Paper.

Option 1 – Stay with the current, nine-council structure and economic prosperity committee:

  • Host for Government functions best delivered at a strategic level involving more than one local authority e.g. Local Nature Recovery Strategies.
  • Opportunity to pool services at a strategic level.
  • Opportunity to adopt innovative local proposals to deliver action on climate change and the UK’s Net Zero targets.

Option 2 – ‘County deal’ with no directly-elected mayor:

  • Host for Government functions best delivered at a strategic level involving more than one local authority e.g. Local Nature Recovery Strategies.
  • Opportunity to pool services at a strategic level.
  • Opportunity to adopt innovative local proposals to deliver action on climate change and the UK’s Net Zero targets.
  • [Local Enterprise Partnership] functions including hosting strategic business voice.
  • Control of appropriate local transport functions e.g. local transport plans.
  • Ability to introduce bus franchising.
  • UK [Shared Prosperity Fund] planning and delivery at a strategic level.
  • Devolution of Adult Education functions and the core Adult Education Budget.
  • Providing input into Local Skills Improvement Plans.
  • Homes England compulsory purchase powers.
  • Clear defined role in local resilience.

Option 3 – Create a combined authority and a directly-elected mayor:

  • Host for Government functions best delivered at a strategic level involving more than one local authority e.g. Local Nature Recovery Strategies.
  • Opportunity to pool services at a strategic level.
  • Opportunity to adopt innovative local proposals to deliver action on climate change and the UK’s Net Zero targets.
  • [Local Enterprise Partnership] functions including hosting strategic business voice.
  • Control of appropriate local transport functions e.g. local transport plans.
  • Defined key route network.
  • Priority for new rail partnerships with Great British Railways – influencing local rail offer, e.g. services and stations.
  • Consolidation of existing core local transport funding for local road maintenance and smaller upgrades into a multi-year integrated settlement.
  • Ability to introduce bus franchising.
  • UK [Shared Prosperity Fund] planning and delivery at a strategic level.
  • Long-term investment fund, with an agreed annual allocation.
  • Devolution of Adult Education functions and the core Adult Education Budget.
  • Providing input into Local Skills Improvement Plans.
  • Role in designing and delivering future contracted employment programmes.
  • Ability to establish Mayoral Development Corporations (with consent of host local planning authority).
  • Devolution of locally-led brownfield funding.
  • Strategic partnerships with Homes England across the Affordable Housing Programme and brownfield funding.
  • Homes England compulsory purchase powers.
  • Mayoral control of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) functions where boundaries align.
  • Clear defined role in local resilience.
  • A duty for improving the public’s health (concurrently with local authorities).
  • Ability to introduce mayoral precepting on council tax.
  • Ability to introduce supplements on business rates.

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