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New devo deals expected in autumn statement

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Lancashire and the Solent are expecting news on devolution deals in next week’s autumn statement while London and the West Midlands are also hopeful of receiving further powers, LGC has learned.

However, rumours a Yorkshire-wide deal is in the offing have proved unfounded although LGC understands councils across the region are considering what options might be available to them in the event of the Sheffield City Region’s mayoral devolution deal faltering.

Northern Powerhouse minister Andrew Percy last week visited Lancashire where he met with local leaders and the local enterprise partnership.

A shadow combined authority has been meeting since the summer and there is an expectation the autumn statement will kick-start the process for formally setting that up and opening devolution deal negotiations.

One local source told LGC: “We are putting together our first package of devo asks. We are hoping to have a positive announcement in the autumn statement.”

However, while most council leaders are reported to be “receptive” to the idea of a mayor – not elected before 2018 – backbench councillors are less keen. 

The discussions do not include Wyre BC which voted earlier in the year to withdraw from the process. Leader Peter Gibson (Con) told LGC this week other leaders “don’t believe they can get an elected mayor through their councils”.

In the capital, discussions have been taking place between the chancellor, London mayor Sadiq Khan (Lab) and London Councils chair Claire Kober (Lab) over further devolution. LGC understands discussions are focused on skills, transport, health, and the health and work programme.

A source with knowledge of the discussions told LGC the engagement had been “significant” and London was hopeful of gaining further freedoms in the near future.

The West Midlands has also been in dicsussions over a second devolution deal. LGC understands that in addition to an application to be a part of the next wave of 100% business rates retention pilots, the area is seeking more powers and controls in relation to skills, including careers advice and the apprenticeship levy. 

On the south coast discussions over a Solent devolution deal are ongoing after leaders said last month they expected the region’s plans to be included in the autumn statement

But while some areas are making progress, others are struggling.

The Greater Lincolnshire deal is close to formally collapsing after Lincolnshire CC’s leader Martin Hill (Con) said last week he was “minded not to support a directly elected mayor for the region based on what is currently on offer”. He is due to notify the government on Monday.

There are question marks over the Sheffield City Region’s deal too, not least due to Derbyshire CC’s legal action against the combined authority in relation to Chesterfield BC’s application to join the body as a full constituent member. It is not known when the judge, who heard the case in the High Court last week, will deliver his judgement

Should the Sheffield City Region’s deal collapse, LGC understands the idea of an elected mayor for the whole of Yorkshire, overseeing up to four separate combined authorities covering the Leeds and Sheffield city regions, North Yorkshire, and the Humber, has been widely floated.

LGC understands talks have so far centred on restricting the mayor to attracting inward investment and tourism, but North Yorkshire CC’s leader Carl Les (Con) thought the role should not just be ceremonial.

“If the mayor has to have powers so be it – let’s negotiate it with government,” he told LGC.

Meanwhile, Warrington BC is open to being involved in a mayoral devolution deal having previously pulled out of negotiations with Cheshire West and Cheshire and Cheshire East councils. Councillors will decide on 12 December whether to resume the work with the Cheshire authorities or seek membership of the Liverpool City Region.

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