A devolution deal for Devon and Somerset has taken a “step forward” following a meeting between council leaders and devolution minister Jake Berry, with a reported softening of the government’s stance on an elected mayor.
The leaders of the area’s four top-tier councils – Devon and Somerset CCs, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council – met with Mr Berry in London on Friday to discuss the Heart of the South West devolution bid. An original bid, agreed locally in January 2016, also had the backing of the area’s 13 district councils, three clinical commissioning groups, the local enterprise partnership and two national parks.
Plymouth leader Ian Bowyer (Con) told LGC Mr Berry had indicated the government could be willing to relax the requirement for county areas to agree to an elected mayor in return for a devolution deal.
He said: “All of us who attended are agreed that it was a positive meeting. The government conceded a measure of flexibility would be available to two-tier authorities that have struggled over the issue of an elected mayor. That was a bit of breakthrough.”
In a statement following the meeting, Somerset leader and chair of the Heart of the South West shadow joint authority David Fothergill (Con) said: “I am pleased by the minister’s response and his recognition of the work we have done to develop a strong partnership. Jake Berry MP confirmed the scale of the deal is dependent on our level of ambition – and collectively we have plenty of that!”
He added: “These discussions are an excellent step forward for our partnership which is strong, united and ambitious to do as much as possible for our economy and communities.”
The council leaders who attended the meeting are due to brief the other authroities involved in the bid on Friday when a decision will be taken on next steps.