County council chief executives are calling on the government to set out a firm position on local government reorganisation – and say many politicians support their position.
Nottinghamshire CC chief executive and chair of the Association of County Council Chief Executives Anthony May told LGC minsters’ current bottom up approach, which has seen only proposals with broad local support approved, was not working.
“What we would like is for the government to take a lead on [restructuring],” he said. “It does seem to the association that it’s an issue for central government.”
Mr May said it would be useful if government could set out “what they would like us to come forward with”, such as the guidance set out when the last set of county unitaries were created in 2009.
However, he said the gridlock in national politics over Brexit and the uncertainty created as result of not knowing what our future relationship with the EU will be was making life difficult.
“The current climate puts us in a bit of a holding pattern,” Mr May said. “If government’s always going to adopt a bottom up approach, what you’ll get is the current patchwork inconsistent approach.
“In many cases when you talk to politicians what they would prefer is clear central government leadership on what they want from local government. It’s the job of government to lead on that.”
He said while there had been exceptions, such as Dorset where the county and districts had managed to agree plans to reform into two unitaries, even then it has been “very hard work”.
“It may be that the government doesn’t want a consistent approach, but it would be quite nice know either way.”
Mr May said the current political situation was making it hard for government to engage with the sector on devolution, but stressed counties were still keen to do deals, although regarded the mayoral model in place in city regions as unsuitable.
“The nationwide position from the county perspective is we’d love to work with government to explore devolution that works for everybody,” he said.
“It’s difficult for government to engage until they’re clear of Brexit but I do sense a willingness from government to reopen devolution discussions as soon as we can.”
Last year Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire CCs announced plans to form a strategic alliance as a potential precursor to a devolution deal. Mr May said chief executives and leaders were still thinking “about how the East Midlands might position itself”.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said: “The government is open to innovative, locally led proposals that will improve services, enhance accountability and deliver financial sustainability.
“Councils are much better placed to develop proposals that suit the unique needs of their residents and businesses.”
*This story was updated at 5.30pm to include a comment from MHCLG