Councils in Devon and Somerset are to take forward plans to set up a joint committee as a forerunner to a potential devolution deal.
The move follows “encouraging noises” from ministers and a commitment not to “push” a mayor on the area where the councils have been discussing devolution under the banner of the Heart of the South West for almost two years.
Somerset CC leader David Fothergill (Con) was appointed chair of the shadow joint committee at a meeting of the 18 councils, two national parks and three clinical commissioning groups that make up the partnership on Friday.
He told LGC the councils involved would all vote on the plans for a joint committee over the next few months with the aim of establishing it in January.
A joint committee allow member councils to delegate powers to the committee. Cllr Fothergill said it was the “first step towards [the] combined authority” that would be needed for a devolution deal.
As LGC reported last week, Cllr Fothergill, along with the leaders of Devon CC and Plymouth City Council and elected mayor of Torbay Council met with devolution minister Jake Berry earlier this month.
“We are encouraged by the noises from the government that they are keen to have these devolution discussions,” Cllr Fothergill said.
“The indication from government that we have had is they will consider any request on devolution of responsibilities… but they would not push for an elected mayor for the Heart of the South West.”
He said the conversation had not gone as far as discussing devolution asks and whether that would be impacted by not having a mayor. Areas being looked at include skills transport development and housing. The bid will involved producing a productivity plan as part of the government’s industrial strategy.
Cllr Fothergill said: “We are on a bus journey, devolution is the end point but at any stage any of the passengers can get off… We are doing things very gently and slowly.”