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Devolution bid seeks powers to vary legislation

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Cambridgeshire and Peterborough councils are seeking powers to vary national legislation as part of a devolution deal.

Councils in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough along with their partners in the NHS, police and fire services, have written to communities secretary Greg Clark seeking to begin discussions on devolution.

The area is seeking devolution of health and social care budgets to create an integrated system, alongside a “similar deal” for public safety bringing together local budgets for police, probation and fire.

In addition they are also seeking a general power to “vary” national legislation, something the signatories to the letter argue should be available to all devolved areas as part of a “new deal” between central and local government.

The letter said: “National Government will rightly continue to set the broad policy and legislative frameworks in which many of these functions operate.

“However, it should recognise that one size does not necessarily fit all and that there should be a “right to vary” where devolved authorities can make a reasoned case that a change would have a perverse impact locally, or that the same objective can be achieved through other means.”

A Cambridgeshire CC spokesman told LGC there were no specific issues in mind but the councils wanted the power should this situation arise in any matter covered by a devolution deal.

Peterborough leader John Holdich (Con) said the power might be used in public health, for example to align campaigns against obesity and smoking to local conditions.

The deal was endorsed by all councils in the area, as well as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group, Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner, the chair of the area’s fire authority and the Greater Cambridgeshire Greater Peterborough LEP (see box).

It would build on the Greater Cambridge City Deal and business rate retention pilot under which authorities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will get to keep 100% of business rates growth provided they meet a government set growth target.

The councils also asked for a locally retained “share of the fiscal dividend of growth” and for devolution of powers over skills, housing, planning and development.

The letter says independent advice will be sought on possible governance options as determining the right model for the area, which has a county, a unitary and five districts, is “not straightforward and there are no established blueprints to follow”.

Cambridgeshire leader Steve Count (Con) said: “We are trying to finesse how to set up the governance as you have bodies that work on a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough footprint and then the LEP takes in areas outside that and we need to work on both levels.”

Cllr Holdich said the councils were not seeking a combined authority but to co-operate on exercising these devolved powers.

He also wants to set up a joint body on skills and economic development for councils in Peterborough’s travel-to-work area (see box).

This would run alongside co-operation with Cambridgeshire but be governed separately, Cllr Holdich said.

He has rejected a call by Lincolnshire to be part of a potential combined authority that it is promoting.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution letter signatories

Cambridgeshire CC

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority

Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner

Cambridge City Council

Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP

East Cambridgeshire DC

Fenland DC

Huntingdonshire DC

Peterborough City Council

South Cambridgeshire DC

Potential members of Peterborough area skills partnership

Fenland DC

King’s Lynn & West Norfolk BC

Peterborough City Council

Rutland CC

South Holland DC

South Kesteven DC

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