Uncertainty over the government’s position on elected mayors has left at least three devolution deals in danger of collapsing by bolstering opposition among local councillors, LGC has learned.
Sources in Greater Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, and Sheffield City Region have told LGC their deals are far from certain to go ahead, with the prospect ofn a directly elected mayor chief concern of members.
As LGCplus.com exclusively revealed last week, Theresa May issued the ultimatum to about 100 Conservative councillors in a conference call at the end of September.
One source, who took part in the call, told LGC: “The prime minister could not have been any clearer: the government is carrying on with the devolution deals already in place and if any other areas want one you have to have an elected mayor.”
Communities secretary Sajid Javid was reported to have been similarly explicit when he addressed the Conservative Councillors Association at the Tory party conference last week.
The comments bring to an end weeks of speculation, sparked by an article in the Times in August , that the new ministers would relax the requirement for an elected mayor.
Chair of the Local Government Association Lord Porter (Con) said the uncertainty had “given the doubters the opportunity to derail” devolution deals. He warned the majority of mayoral devolution deals agreed by government over the past 12 months were under threat, including his own in Greater Lincolnshire which is awaiting the outcome of a crunch vote tonight.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid warned Greater Lincolnshire’s Conservative council leaders at the Tory party conference in Birmingham last week that the deal would be withdrawn if just one of the 10 local authorities opposed the proposed agreement.
While Boston BC, West Lindsey DC, and North Lincolnshire Council have already approved the deal, East Lindsey DC’s vote Wednesday evening was set to be “tight”, according to the council’s leader Craig Leyland (Con).
Even if East Lindsey signs up to the deal this week, South Kesteven DC’s leader Bob Adams told LGC his council’s vote on 24 October “hangs in the balance”. Concern about money previously earmarked for a relief road in the district being incorporated into the wider devolution deal, is a key issue.
“Some members think that’s a step too far,” Cllr Adams told LGC, who added he had “not made my mind up yet” on which way to vote as a result of the funding issue.
In Norfolk, four districts, including Norwich City Council, opted out of the proposed deal in June and July. Widespread opposition to an elected mayor across the remaining local authorities in the county looks set to scupper any chances of the deal with Suffolk surviving.
In a sign of the level of concern, council leaders involved in the deal, local business representatives and 13 MPs published an open letter this week reiterating their support for the deal as an “opportunity to help our people, places and businesses reach their full potential”.
LGC has previously reported how Sheffield City Region’s deal is under threat with Doncaster MBC calling for a discussion with the government over the need for an elected mayor. Sources locally report Doncaster would prefer to wait a year so its own all out and mayoral elections do not clash with elections for a city region mayor. Local politicians are also reported to be feeling vulnerable over local opposition to the HS2 route.
In any case the councils involved cannot take a final decision to proceed until the communities secretary confirms whether or not he will accept their preferred geography, which includes Chesterfield BC and Bassetlaw DC as well as the core members of Sheffield City Council and Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster MBCs.
Meanwhile, Derbyshire CC’s claim that the city region’s consultation on Chesterfield joining the deal was unlawful will be heard by a judge on 9 and 10 November
Plans appear to be progressing better in the West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough where the inclusion of a £170m housing fund is providing an incentive to sign up. However, at Cambridgeshire CC, which is run by a minority Conservative administration, the opposition Liberal Democrat group are calling for the devolution arrangements to be delayed in order to explore the possibly of progressing the deal without an elected mayor.
Meanwhile, the Tees Valley Combined Authority is expecting its second parliamentary order, which will enable an elected mayor to head up the body, to be laid and passed around the Autumn Statement.
So far no mayoral candidates have emerged but Labour North told LGC a timetable for the selection process in that region, and other areas with devolution deals which have yet to be fully ratified, had not yet been set by the party’s national executive committee.
LGC reported last month how the North East devolution deal fell through due to concerns about an elected mayor and uncertainties over the future of European funding, although Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, and Northumberland CC have started talks in the hope of securing a deal for their area.