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Three things we learnt about devolution at the Conservative conference

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The new Conservative metro-mayors were star attractions at a number of Conservative conference fringe events this week. Here are three things we learned about their devolution plans.

Tees Valley CA is in discussion about a new devolution deal.

Speaking at a fringe event the region’s mayor Ben Houchen (Con) referred to it as “devolution 1.5” saying it was “less exciting but more important” in terms of getting things done, partly involving new freedoms to make existing powers work better. Asked by LGC what other “asks” he was making of the government, Mr Houchen said: “Housing is a key one, a lot around economic growth [and] enhancing the offering so if we are looking at attracting foreign or direct investment some things are a bit more formal.”

Devolution of skills budgets has been put back to 2019, and Andy Street is not happy.

LGC reported in July that government inertia was delaying planned handing over of the 19+ skills budgets to the six mayoral combined authorities, originally due to take place next April. The move requires secondary legislation which has yet to be laid. West Midlands CA mayor Andy Street (Con) said: “We are nowhere and it’s really troubling… We are going backwards, it’s not good enough.” He said the West Midlands would make a business case that it was in the national interest as part of the industrial strategy for skills to be devolved as soon as possible. Mr Street said Greater Manchester CA mayor Andy Burnham (Con) was also concerned while the Tees Valley’s Mr Houchen told the same fringe event it was frustrating. He told LGC he would be seeking devolution of skills budgets in shadow form in 2018-19 if the parliamentary orders could not be laid in time.

There’s little appetite for health devolution among Conservative metro-mayors.

Mr Street said he “did not see the point” of health devolution but he wanted the area to lead the way on public health. Mr Houchen also told delegates it was not part of Tees Valley’s plan while, speaking to LGC, West of England CA mayor Tim Bowles (Con) said the focus was on “delivering the deal we have got”.

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