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Cities express doubt over four-county 'combined authority'

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Talks between leaders in the East Midlands on forming a strategic alliance across four counties which would operate like a combined authority and pave the way for a devolution deal are a long way off and unlikely to be successful, according to Nottingham city’s leader and Leicester city’s mayor.

LGC revealed last month that preliminary discussions involving Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire CCs have focused on a way to “counter-balance” the power of the West Midlands CA, with an acceptance this may lead to some reorganisation of local government structures in the region.

At the time Leicestershire leader Nick Rushton (Con) told LGC the government “could not ignore” a combined authority proposal which included the four counties and Derby, Leicester and Nottingham city councils, all unitaries.

In a statement Leicester’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby (Lab) said he was aware talks were taking place but questioned whether an agreement could be reached.

“I think this is one of those ideas that get discussed at some length, but I have some doubts it will come to anything,” he said. “Combined authorities were a big issue a couple of years ago but the momentum behind it seems to have faded.”

A Derby City Council spokesperson said politicians had been involved in discussions on the strategic alliance but nothing had been decided “at an organisational level” due to the local elections.

Nottingham leader Jon Collins (Lab) said there is nothing to suggest agreement on “local government configurations for a combined authority” is close.

He added long-running “county unitary aspirations” were a separate issue and “the city has no desire to indulge in rearranging the local government deckchairs locally.”

Cllr Collins said: “However, if the county council seeks to become a unitary authority we would argue strongly that it couldn’t possibly be on current boundaries.

“New city/county boundaries would need to reflect the real boundaries of the city and include much of the conurbation which, due to an administrative failure, currently form part of the county.”

In a joint statement issued this week Cllr Rushton, Derbyshire leader Barry Lewis (Con), Lincolnshire leader Martin Hill (Con) and Nottinghamshire leader Kay Cutts (Con) said the region has the lowest government spending per population on economic development and transport.

They added: “This will remain the case unless we join forces and make our voice heard.

“The next stage in the plans will be to have further detailed talks to see how we can take the strategic alliance forward with a view to eventually being able to draw down powers and funding from government.”

The county leaders added a strategic alliance would include local enterprise partnerships and chambers of commerce and focus on transport, infrastructure, jobs and strategic planning.

“This would ensure the East Midlands comes together to support the wider aims of the Midlands Engine and the industrial strategy as the country moves towards Brexit,” they added.

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