LGC research reveals how devolution bids have developed since the summer. Mark Smulian and David Paine report
Devolution map december 2015
Whitehall and rows hit devo plans
The historic county’s six unitaries –West Berkshire, Reading, Slough, Windsor & Maidenhead, Bracknell Forest and Wokingham – consider devolution unsuited to their needs and are instead developing a federated structure in which they will share services in different combinations.
Brighton & Hove City Region
Working with its city deal partners Lewes, Mid Sussex and Adur DCs and Worthing BC, Brighton & Hove City Council is talking to Crawley BC about a potential devolution bid focused on gaining powers relating to housing and jobs. Proposals for a deal covering Surrey and East and West Sussex CCs (see overleaf) have muddied the waters somewhat. Brighton leader Warren Morgan (Lab) told LGC he expected ministers to give a clearer indication as to whether or not the government believes the two bids can co-exist early next year.
Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire
The West of England devolution bid covering skills, transport, broadband infrastructure and fiscal freedoms was submitted in September. Talks with ministers continue.
England’s Economic Heartland Transport Alliance
Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire CCs were quick to come together and seek additional powers over transport earlier this year. However, the powers being sought are limited and stop short of a full devolution deal, meaning areas involved are free to pursue separate bids. Bedford and Luton BCs and Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes councils have also signed up to the transport alliance while Cambridgeshire CC has been approached to join.
Although it is pioneering a strategic transport alliance with neighbours Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire CCs (see above), Buckinghamshire CC is not seeking a conventional devolution deal. Aylesbury Vale DC is in discussions with other members of the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership about a possible bid.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
Proposals for devolved powers over housing, planning, skills, transport, business and the economy were submitted to communities secretary Greg Clark in July. A spokesman told LGC talks between councils, the local enterprise partnership and other partners had been “progressing positively” but were still at an early stage.
Cheshire West & Chester, Cheshire East, Warrington
The three councils have formed an economic prosperity board and are in talks about submitting a devolution bid. They have also joined with Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Staffordshire CC and three of its districts and the Cheshire and Warrington and Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEPs to form the Northern Gateway Partnership, designed to exploit growth opportunities arising from the HS2 rail line project.
Deal agreed July 2015.
Cumbria CC and its districts were hopeful of reaching agreement on a devolution bid in time for last month’s spending review. A lack of capacity in Whitehall was blamed for the failure to finalise the agreement, spurring county council leader Stewart Young (Lab) to threaten to walk away unless ministers agree to cut a deal by 11 December.
Derby and Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire
Talks over the separate but linked “D2N2” devolution deals are at a very advanced stage but Erewash BC and South Derbyshire DC showed signs of cold feet last month and demanded more discussions. LGC also understands the government is fearful of upsetting local Conservative MPs whose support it needs to pass the Cities & Local Government Devolution Bill. Amendments to the bill which will allow districts to break away from counties and join combined authorities outside their area could also throw a spanner in the works if districts in the north of the two counties decide to join Sheffield City Region instead.
Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay
The Heart of the South West draft bid is to be published later this month for local comment before being finalised and submitted to ministers in mid to late January. An early version suggests the bid is likely to focus on health, strategic infrastructure, including improved broadband and coastal protection, and improving housing supply.
Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole
Soon after an expression of interest in doing a devolution deal covering the whole of the historic area of Dorset was lodged with ministers in September, the leaders of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch BCs and East Dorset DC surprised their neighbours by saying they wanted to form a largely urban unitary. Nevertheless, councils in the area have continued to consider plans to set up a combined authority with powers over transport, economic development and coastal defence.
East Sussex, Surrey and West Sussex
Leaders are waiting to be given a date for a meeting with the communities secretary to discuss asks contained in the Three Southern Counties bid submitted in September. Demands included greater control over the road and rail network, as well as planning for housebuilding.
Essex, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock
Unitaries Southend-on-Sea BC and Thurrock Council reluctantly agreed to join the Greater Essex bid covering the historic county in September. A detailed bid is due to be submitted to the government in the new year. However, Southend and Thurrock are pursuing a ‘twin track’ approach and continue to explore a bid for the more urban south of the county.
A devolution bid went to the government in the summer based on economic growth and health and social care, and a so-called ‘ministerial challenge’ meeting has taken place. Following that, minor changes have been made and the councils are awaiting further government feedback.
London is a special case as it already has an elected mayor and the Greater London Authority has some devolved powers. Nevertheless the 33 London councils submitted an ambitious devolution bid in September. An announcement on which “sub-regions” of the capital will pilot new ways of working with health is expected imminently while the spending review included a commitment for the mayor and boroughs to jointly commission employment support for the very long term unemployed.
Initial deal agreed November 2014. This has been extended to include additional powers over health and social care.
Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton and Isle of Wight
Ministerial challenge meetings have revealed disagreements over the speed of house building implied in the bid’s commitment to “accelerate” housing delivery. Meanwhile, amendments to the devolution bill announced this week have opened the door for the unitaries and districts in the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire area to revive their original plans for a standalone bid. Talks continue to see if everyone can be kept on board.
Herefordshire, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin
After little initial action on devolution, Telford & Wrekin Council submitted its own bid in September but later became a non-constituent member of the West Midlands Combined Authority. The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership is planning to submit a devolution bid for skills and infrastructure covering its whole area, with councils making individual bids for devolved powers for local matters.
Proposals for a county-wide devolution deal are still being developed with no pressure to adhere to a set timetable.
Kent and Medway
Kent CC leader Paul Carter (Con) told LGC there was a “general willingness” locally to submit a bid to the government with a focus on health and social care integration, and early intervention in children’s and adults’ services. However, Medway Council’s leader Alan Jarrett (Con) said: “We have been involved in and continue to have various devolution discussions across Kent, none of which have been about health and social care integration. Medway’s position is that a devolution bid involving health is not something it considers wise to pursue.”
Lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen
Councils are in the process of voting on a bid focused on transport and economic development, but Wyre BC has said it is unhappy and expects to oppose the idea, seeing it as largely irrelevant to districts.
Leeds City Region
The Leeds City Region deal was signed in the run-up to the March 2015 budget. It does not include a mayor and consequently has fewer powers than deals with other metropolitan areas. In July, the chancellor said the city region was in line for extra powers. However, a Greater Yorkshire devolution bid, including Leeds City Region but submitted without backing from every council involved, has complicated discussions locally and negotiations with the government have stalled.
Leicestershire and Leicester
Councils are voting on whether to back a bid limited to transport and strategic planning. It does not mention a mayor due to concern that this would lead to confusion with Leicester City Council’s existing elected mayor.
Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire
A devolution bid based on transport, skills, housing, health and flood risk is being voted on by the councils concerned. The final vote is due at Lincolnshire CC on 18 December.
Liverpool City Region
Deal agreed November 2015.
Milton Keynes, Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton
Talks are taking place between the members of the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership. This includes the four unitaries – Bedford and Luton BCs and Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes councils – as well as five of the seven Northamptonshire districts, the Buckinghamshire district Aylesbury Vale DC and the Oxfordshire district of Cherwell DC. Some sources are hopeful that a proposal can be bought forward in the new year. However, two-tier complications, and a potential Oxfordshire bid, mean this may not include all the districts.
Norfolk and Suffolk
The two counties and their districts submitted separate bids in September but were told they should work together. They have since drawn up a joint bid which has been presented to ministers and includes a proposal for a combined authority chair appointed by the two counties, 14 districts and the LEP, rather than an elected mayor. As LGC went to press they were awaiting a response from the government.
Deal agreed October 2015.
Five of the county’s seven districts are involved in discussions with the other members of the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership but the county council is not involved.
North Yorkshire, York, Hull and East Riding
Earlier this year North Yorkshire CC declined to give up its highway powers for those of its districts that are part of the Leeds City Region devolution deal, blowing those plans off course. Meanwhile, Hull City Council has been shunned by its neighbours on the southern bank of the Humber and joined with North Yorkshire and East Riding to promote a Greater Yorkshire bid for the entire historic county.
Leaders met communities secretary Greg Clark last week to discuss devolution proposals which include taking control of health and social care budgets, and gaining powers and controls over housing, skills, and infrastructure. While positive feedback has been given so far, Oxfordshire CC leader Ian Hudspeth (Con) told LGC “we will have to wait and see” if the county’s authorities were ready to finalise a deal in time for next year’s Budget on 16 March. Cllr Hudspeth said there was local opposition to the elected mayor model.
One of England’s smallest unitaries, Rutland CC is not so far involved in any of the devolution bids in surrounding areas. A council spokesman said: “We think we are fine as we are.”
Sheffield City Region
Deal agreed October 2015.
Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent
Since LGC’s August devolution map, talks have been held between leaders and chief executives of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Staffordshire CC and its districts about developing a devolution bid. This would likely to be focused on economic growth, skills and health. Relationships with health partners are well developed and the area has set up a “commissioning congress” designed to develop greater integrated commissioning.
Deal agreed October 2015.
Coventry City Council and Nuneaton & Bedworth BC have joined the West Midlands Combined Authority, but the remaining four districts and the county council rejected the proposal. Plans for a county-wide bid appear dead in the water without Coventry’s involvement. Warwickshire CC leader Izzi Seccombe (Con) told LGC there was “nothing to report”.
Deal agreed November 2015.
Wiltshire and Swindon
The way forward on devolution remains unclear as cabinet members on Swindon BC and Wiltshire Council found little common ground during an awayday last month. The meeting was intended to repair damage done to relations after Wiltshire submitted its own devolution bid at the last minute, despite having worked with Swindon on a joint proposal in the run-up to the 4 September deadline. The two councils have written to Greg Clark to inform him discussions are continuing though Wiltshire appears to be unilaterally pursuing its own bid.
A draft bid from the county and its districts, described as a “work in progress”, has been circulated locally. It contains a proposal that government spy operation GCHQ should work with councils to promote the local ‘cybertech’ industry. A full bid is expected in the new year.
Devolution map explained
Even a cursory glance at LGC’s latest devolution map gives a sense of the increasingly complicated nature of devolution discussions.
There are now five mayoral devolution deals, two other deals and almost every other part of country is involved in discussions.
We have divided areas into four categories reflecting the spectrum of situations on the ground. Broadly those we have classed as at advanced stages of discussions will have had numerous meetings with ministers and are close to agreeing a deal.
Those we have classed as ‘early stages’ will be at varying stages of discussions locally and may have had some initial meetings with ministers. Crucially they have something on paper, even if has yet to be signed off by the councils involved.
Those with no firm plans will in the main be discussing options but there is no detailed bid in existence as yet. (Only Rutland CC and the six Berkshire unitaries told us they were not interested in pursuing any kind of devolution deal.)
Twelve districts and two unitaries are non-constituent signatories to an existing devolution deal whilst also part of parallel discussions with their counties. A similar situation is emerging on the south coast where three districts in the Brighton City Deal and devolution discussions are also part of the Three Southern Counties discussions.
It is possible the experience of negotiating deals in two-tier areas prompted the radical amendments to the Cities & Local Government Devolution Bill that were made by the government earlier this week.
This article was updated at 15.34 on 11 December 2015 to add in Medway Council’s position to devolution discussions across Kent.