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Parishes and towns invited to put forward devolution demands

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Parish and town councils have been asked what powers they would like to gain as part of a devolution deal for Greater Essex that is expected to be agreed in the new year.

Essex CC is prepared to allocate funding, provide training, and make necessary regulation changes in order to give lower-tier authorities greater control over what happens in their areas.

This could include the ability to fill potholes, maintain footpaths and trees, and cut grass verges.

Formal requests are being drawn up following a meeting of council leaders last month.

Essex’s leader David Finch (Con) told LGC there would have to be a “standardised” set of powers devolved as there are about 300 town and parish councils in the county.

“There would have to be a degree of uniformity but the important bit would be to give local people control of local issues that they are vexed about or want to have control over,” he said.

Cllr Finch envisaged allocating funding to town and parish councils to deliver particular functions but added: “If a parish wanted to cut their footpaths four times a year and we were paying for one cut a year I would expect them to fund the additional three.

“So we would have given them the ability to do it in terms of any regulation changes or training and then it’s a case of them doing it and doing more if they want to do more than we are capable of funding them to do.”

Outline proposals for a Greater Essex devolution bid were submitted to the government in time for the chancellor’s 4 September deadline.

Cllr Finch said a “more detailed” submission was now being developed but added the county had agreed with the government that it would be finalised by December, after the spending review on 25 November, with a view to agreeing a deal early in the new year.

The Greater Essex bid is built around a ‘gainshare agreement’ under which the additional revenues generated through local growth would be shared between local and national partners.

Cllr Finch said the plan was to grow Essex’s economic output from £32.5bn gross value added to £60bn by 2025. He said that could be achieved by boosting skills training, and investing in the county’s infrastructure and broadband network.

“If that’s going to give a greater economic growth to the county and makes us second only to London we would say to the government, ‘You should think how you’re going to give back some of that money to us’ and we would determine how we would share that amongst the areas of the county.”

Work is also being undertaken to look at proposals around housing and governance in particular.

Cllr Finch said while discussions were “not at that stage” of deciding on whether to adopt an elected mayor for Greater Essex, he added leaders “should think about it”. He said: “At the end of the day if we get the deal we should accept we are going to move to that decision. It’s not for local government to say we are not going to accept a deal with government simply because the government wants to have an elected mayor.”

LGC previously reported that while unitaries Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock BCs support the bid with Essex CC and its districts, they are also pursuing a separate proposal for a combined authority for the Thames Gateway South Essex area.

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