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Stop overthinking mayor issue, councils told

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A leader on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has urged councils in other areas to stop focusing on governance arrangements when discussing combined authorities and any potential devolution deals.

Sean Anstee (Con), leader of Trafford MBC, said too many local authorities were approaching the devolution agenda the “wrong way around”.

“Governance is not a primary issue and it should not be the starting point,” he told delegates attending a debate on devolution at the Local Government Association’s annual conference in Harrogate. “Too many areas are starting with the structure and politics and they are trying to debate the merits of having a mayor or not.

“But they are debating whether to have a mayor or not without knowing what it is that a mayor, or not, would actually govern. That’s the wrong way around of doing it.”

In November, Greater Manchester’s 10 leaders agreed a comprehensive devolution deal with the government in return for adopting the directly elected mayor model. Three months later it was announced the region would take full control of its £6bn health and social care budgets from April 2016. Last month, police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd (Lab) was officialy appointed interim mayor for Greater Manchester.

Cllr Anstee said while “all eyes continue to be on Greater Manchester”, councils should not just copy the region’s model.

“It’s important that as we move towards these sorts of arrangements they suit what it is in the respective locations they are referring to,” he said.

Cllr Anstee said leaders and officers should be “very clear” about their motivations for entering the devolution debate “because it’s not necessarily about the functions or the powers and controls you have”.

He said: “Too many areas are jumping to ‘how’ to do it without even thinking about why they are doing it in the first place.”

Cllr Anstee urged councils struggling to establish relationships to find common ground over issues such as transport. He added every council should have “assets to bring to the table” and that smaller authorities should be heavily involved in the discussions and future arrangements so they are “also getting their piece of the cake”.

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