A Treasury-imposed deadline to conclude major devolution deals has sparked a rush of activity across the country, an LGC investigation has found.
Cambridge and Bristol, two of the largest English cities as yet not part of a combined authority, are making progress on agreeing potential devolution bids with their neighbours while councils in rural areas are rapidly forming alliances.
The chancellor’s deadline, announced in the July Budget two weeks ago, aims to make sure deals are agreed in time for the comprehensive spending review, which is due to report on 25 November.
This week the Treasury said city regions that wanted to agree a deal in return for a mayor would need to “submit formal, fiscally neutral proposals and an agreed geography to the Treasury by 4 September 2015”.
A Treasury document published alongside the announcement also revealed the chancellor had “asked all relevant secretaries of state to proactively consider what they can devolve to local areas”.
A source at the Department for Communities & Local Government told LGC the government wanted to link agreements with the spending review as devolution required changing the way departments worked.
“If you want a big spectrum of powers then ideally you want to be included in a spending review or budget,” they said.
The source added: “It won’t be that if you don’t get your proposal in ahead of the spending review then that’s it… It won’t be the end but as always we would encourage people to move quickly and ambitiously.”
This week’s Treasury announcement comes a week after it was confirmed Cornwall had become the first rural authority to negotiate a devolution deal, a move which appears to have emboldened other county areas.
LGC’s research has found Wiltshire Council has started work on proposals for a Cornwall-style single county deal focused on the integration of public services. Swindon BC, which sits within the historic county of Wiltshire, has also been invited to join.
Hertfordshire CC’s leader Robert Gordon (Con) told LGC he would be meeting the county’s district leaders by the end of the month to discuss work on a possible county devolution deal.
Councils in Lincolnshire are also holding “exploratory talks” about devolution, LGC found.
In neighbouring Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, council leaders along with colleagues in health, police and business wrote to Mr Clark onTuesday seeking to open discussions about a devolution deal.
The four members of the West of England Partnership – Bristol City Council, Bath & North East Somerset Council, North Somerset Council, and South Gloucestershire Council – have launched a review of the partnership’s governance as a step towards developing a detailed case for devolved powers.
LGC exclusively revealed last week that the leaders of London’s 32 boroughs, the City of London, and mayor Boris Johnson had agreed a set of devolution proposals to submit to the government.
Elsewhere, leaders in the north-east backed down in a stand-off with the government over the adoption of an elected mayor. Their resistance to adopting George Osborne’s favoured metro-mayor model had stalled negotiations with the government.
Their shift in position came after the region’s omission from George Osborne’s Budget speech and despite the government suffering a defeat in the Lords. Peers voted in favour of an amendment to the Cities & Local Government Devolution Bill this which would mean the transfer of powers to a combined authority should not be conditional on adopting a directly elected mayor.
However, this amendment could be overturned when the bill goes to the Commons where the government has a majority.
Local Government Association chair Gary Porter (Con) welcomed the passing of the amendment, which the LGA had pushed for. He said: “Allowing more flexibility around governance systems will make a significant difference in promoting devolution to all areas of the country.”