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South west moves on devolution

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Councils across the south west are working up plans to win devolved powers from government, in the wake of last week’s announcement that Cornwall is among the next in line for a devolution deal.

Somerset CC leader John Osman (Con) has invited every council in his county to a meeting to discuss devolution,together with those in Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, the unitaries of Cornwall, Wiltshire and the four members of the West of England Partnership: Bristol City Council, Bath & North East Somerset Council, North Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council.

Meanwhile, councils in Gloucestershire and the West of England Partnership area have separately been developing their own plans to come together and win devolved powers.

The region has been slow to move on devolution so far, with the exception of Cornwall, which secured backing for its bid for devolved powers in last week’s Budget.

Elsewhere, as LGC revealed last week, Wiltshire has started work on a proposing a similar single county deal, while councils in Dorset plan to form a combined authority.

A Somerset spokesman said: “The meeting has been called to discuss ways of working together and explore if we want to submit one or many bids for devolution.”

The West of England Partnership announced this morning it had launched a review of governance, as a step towards developing a detailed case for devolved powers.

Bristol elected mayor George Ferguson (Ind) and the three council leaders said in a joint statement: “We agree today to undertake a review of governance on how we strengthen our joint working as four unitary authorities, with a view to obtaining devolved powers from the government for the benefit of all our residents.”

They said the review, which is expected to last between nine and 18-months, would look at “the governance structures that would best fit the devolution of certain functions to the four authorities”.

This timescale though would appear to miss that set in Budget papers last week, which said ‘significant’ devolution bids would have to be submitted this autumn “in time for conclusion ahead of the spending review”.

A Bristol spokesman said: “Having the right governance in place is an element of delivering a devolution deal, not negotiating one. It does not preclude a bid and thus there is no conflict on timescales.”

Gloucestershire CC is to prepare a devolution case with the local NHS and police, which could seek more control over social care and health spending, local transport networks, business rates, education, and infrastructure.

It is not yet known if Gloucestershire proposes a combined authority with its districts, or whether councils would accept a directly elected mayor in return for the powers sought.

Gloucestershire said discussions with district councils about what their demands might be had been taking place over the past few months.

Leader Mark Hawthorne (Con) said: “By improving the way government services are run in the county we can improve services for everyone.”



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