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'Significant' devolution deals must be signed off by autumn

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Council bids for “significant” devolved powers will have to be signed off by ministers before the autumn spending review, Budget papers today indicate.

The papers confirm that the government “remains open to any further proposals” from local authorities but insists that “significant powers” will only be transferred to authorities which agree to an elected mayor.

And such bids would have be submitted “in time for conclusion ahead of the spending review,” it adds.

Details of the deadline emerged as the chancellor announced further powers for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in his Budget speech.

George Osborne said he had agreed to place the conurbation’s fire services under the control of the directly elected mayor, establish a “regional land commission”, and grant local leaders extra powers over planning (see box below).

The chancellor also confirmed in his Budget statement that there was a “major plan to give Cornwall a greater say over local decisions”, as  LGC exclusively revealed last week.

According to sources, the council could take control of health and social care spending without the need for a directly elected mayor.

Cornwall Council leader John Pollard (Ind) today welcomed Mr Osborne’s “positive comments”.

He said the authority’s proposals were designed for residents “to benefit from an integrated health and social care system; significant economic growth; more affordable homes, greater access to employment and training opportunities, together with a much improved public transport network”.

County Councils Network director Simon Edwards called the announcement “groundbreaking”.

He warned that ongoing funding cuts to local government “threatens” to undermine councils’ abilities to grow their economies.

Mr Osborne also confirmed devolution discussions were taking place with leaders in the Leeds, Liverpool, and Sheffield City Regions.

A section in Budget papers referring to these deals, said the city regions “will be granted significant additional powers and the opportunity to take control of their own affairs to support economic growth” if agreements are reached.

These would, however, depend on the regions agreeing to have an “elected mayor working with local leaders to oversee new powers devolved from ministers”.

The North East Combined Authority’s chair Simon Henig (Lab), who is also leader of Durham CC, said it was “disappointing” it failed to get a mention.

He added, however, that he believed the combined authority was in a “strong position to push the case for a devolution deal” following a recent meeting with communities secretary Greg Clark.

In a bid to improve transport across the north, an Oyster-style ticketing system will be rolled out across the region, which will be overseen by a “statutory body with statutory duties” called Transport for North.

This new body will be given £30m funding over three years to support its running costs and draw up a work programme.

The  integrated ticketing system across bus, tram, metro and rail services is expected to be a “top” priority.

An interim chief executive and executive team will be appointed by autumn 2015, and a chair by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the Budget document said the government “strongly supports” the proposals surrounding the creation of a West Midlands Combined Authority, and that ministers were “pleased” about two combined authority proposals in the east midlands.

The government reinforced a commitment made in last year’s autumn statement to expand the ‘One Public Estate’ programme which allows local authorities to work with central government and other public bodies and agencies to better manage and share property and land assets.

This Budget pledged £6m to “ensure local government rationalises its estate to contribute to growth and ensure efficient use of public assets”.

As trailed ahead of today’s speech, Mr Osborne’s Budget confirmed the government will consult over plans over “devolving powers on Sunday trading to city mayors and local authorities”.

The document said: “This will look at allowing mayors or councils to extend Sunday trading for additional hours within parameters that they would determine.”

Mr Osborne also used his speech to announce the creation of a new ‘roads fund’ which will go towards paying for improvements.

This would be funded by changes to vehicle excise duty, he said, and added the government would “engage with the devolved administrations” on how the money is spent.

Latest Greater Manchester devolution deal details

The Greater Manchester Land Commission will overview “all publicly owned land in the region, including that owned by government and other public sector bodies”, according to a statement from the region’s combined authority.

It said the commission will examine and co-ordinate how land can be used to support the construction of 10,000 new homes a year and “address any barriers to such land being developed”.

The commission will be jointly chaired by the mayor and housing minister, while it will also include ministers “from other key landowning departments”, the statement said.

On planning, the mayor will have the ability to create ‘Mayoral Development Corporations’ to drive regeneration programmes and the completion of “complex development schemes”.

However, in order for any development corporation to be created the proposal would have to be agreed by the leader of the Greater Manchester local authority in which the corporation would have powers.

Meanwhile, the mayor is also set to get compulsory purchase powers although once again they would only be gained if the leader of the relevant local authority agrees to them being granted.

In addition to taking on the role of the region’s Police and Crime Commissioner from 2017, Greater Manchester’s directly elected mayor will also “oversee” Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s work.

“This will help enable emergency services to be better integrated,” the statement said.

The combined authority also said the region’s 10 councils would work with the government to review children’s services with a view to improving their integration and making them “more efficient”. The statement said: “Any proposals would be subject to approval by government and individual local authorities, the latter remaining accountable for overseeing the delivery of children’s services in their areas.”

On health and social care, the combined authority said the government had “pledged” to make sure its spending review would be aligned with the region’s plan on how to deliver services once it takes control of the £6bn health and social care budgets from April 2016.

 

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