Powers over housing, economic growth and retention of 100% of business rates growth will be chief among councils’ devolution demands to the next government, an exclusive LGC survey has found.
LGC asked senior officers about their plans and ambitions for devolution as part of our confidence survey.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of senior staff said their council either planned to or could join a combined authority to gain more devolved powers and control over funding in the next parliament, while 21% said theirs already had.
More than three-quarters said they would like to retain 100% of business rates growth in their area. Powers and funding over housing, economic growth and the management of public sector assets were also high up the list (see graphic).
Only 32% wanted powers to re-regulate buses, although there were regional variations, with 75% of respondents in Yorkshire and the Humber keen to have these powers compared with just 19% in east England.
Almost 60% wanted greater powers over health, as seen in Greater Manchester where the combined authority is being given control over the area’s £6bn health and social care budget.
This was most popular in London and the north-east where more than 80% of respondents cited it, compared with just a third in the south-west.
However, despite the clamour for devolution, the majority of the 229 respondents would not support the introduction of an elected mayor in return for more powers, a condition laid out in the Conservative manifesto. Fewer than one in five participants (19%) said they were in favour of adopting an elected mayor model, while 57% were opposed and the remainder said they did not know.
During campaigning for today’s election a clear dividing line has emerged between the Conservatives and Labour on the mayors. While the Conservatives said it would be mandatory for a large city to have an elected mayor in return for devolution, Labour said they would not impose a governance structure.
However, both parties have indicated they would be open to allowing local authorities to keep 100% of business rates growth. It was an explicit commitment in the Labour manifesto while in this spring’s Budget George Osborne authorised pilots in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Greater Manchester and Cheshire East.
Asked what else they would like to see devolved, a number of respondents cited greater fiscal powers, including over taxes such as stamp duty or the power to set a tourist tax.
A report from the Key Cities group of 26 midsized British cities, published last week, said its councils should be able to “set and retain” local taxes such as council tax, stamp duty and business rates.
The report also called on the new government to deliver five-year funding settlements over a range of policy areas including transport, housing, and skills.
Writing on LGCplus this week, Sunderland City Council chief executive Dave Smith, the chair of the Key Cities chief executives’ group, claimed this could save the Treasury £2.5bn each year, equivalent to £12.5bn over the life of the next parliament.
“We can achieve this by allowing cities to pursue local economic strategies that take advantage of their specialist expertise,” he said.
“This is the moment for a radically new direction - this is the moment to cut through the shouting, and the mudslinging and the uncertainty, and put Britain on a new course.”