6 July 2016 15:00
Heart of the South West devolution partners to consider Combined Authority
Councils across Devon and Somerset have been reassured that their devolution proposals do not require an elected mayor.
At a recent summit meeting with council leaders, Local Government Secretary Greg Clark said Government would not impose an elected Mayor as part of any Heart of the South West (HotSW) Devolution Partnership deal.
New powers would instead be overseen by a Combined Authority consisting of representatives of Devon and Somerset county councils, Plymouth and Torbay councils, the 13 district councils in the two counties and Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks.
Leaders of the councils and partners have already backed the plan. Each authority will now be asked to formally sign-up to the principle of creating a Combined Authority which would allow the negotiations towards a deal to move forward.
Somerset County Council Leader John Osman said:
“I’m delighted by the unanimous support amongst leaders of councils to take forward the proposal for a Combined Authority devolution deal.
“It is truly exciting to see how we can work together to deliver more for our residents in key areas like the economy, homes, health and social care.
“We will of course be following the national picture closely in the coming weeks and await clarification, but we do not anticipate the EU Referendum result having an impact on the progress of our proposals and all the partners are keen to move things forward.
"The next step will be for each council to formally approve the Combined Authority proposals. After that we will negotiate the finance, powers and responsibilities to be passed to us by central government before a final decision is made in the autumn.”
Councillors will hear that the Combined Authority would not take over any powers or funding from existing authorities and that they would have a say in the constitution and decision-making powers of the new body.
The HotSW Partnership has already submitted its ‘prospectus for productivity’ to the Government in a bid to win more powers to boost jobs and growth. The partnership says it wants a ‘devolution revolution’ to improve the lives of people in Devon and Somerset.
The prospectus was endorsed by every local authority in the two counties and they are now being asked to give the green light for more detailed negotiations with the Government.
Devon County Council Leader John Hart said:
“I firmly believe, as local people, we can do things more effectively and more efficiently locally than being told what to do by London.
“This is the first time in my political lifetime that the Government has offered local government the opportunity to draw down powers like these.
"This could mean real power coming to the South West. This is a real opportunity for this council and other councils. We should be working together for the benefit of the people of Devon and the South West.”
Plymouth City Council Leader Ian Bowyer said:
“The Secretary of State has given us a unique opportunity – to put forward proposals for powers to be devolved to us, without insisting that we have a directly elected mayor.
“It has to be in the best interests of the people that we serve to get the best possible deal we can negotiate on this basis.”
Torbay Council's elected Mayor, Gordon Oliver, said:
"It's really important that all the local authorities agree on a way forward so we have a stable base to progress to the next stage of our devolution bid."
The Local Enterprise Partnership’s Chair, Steve Hindley, said:
“We are backing our local authority partners to secure the best deal for the Heart of the South West, and their aims for a Combined Authority.
“The business community, through the LEP, is working hand in hand with the elected Members across Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay to deliver this exciting Prospectus for Productivity which focuses on the ‘Golden Opportunities’ for transformational growth in the economy; which are closely aligned to the day to day work of the LEP in its inward investment and sector development activity.”
The partnership's Prospectus for Productivity says the changes that are proposed would result in higher productivity and better-paid jobs, improved road, rail and broadband links and more homes for the region’s growing population.
There would be radical reforms to integrate health and social care to allow the ageing population to be better looked after, tailored support for growing businesses and the creation of a centre of excellence for skills development.
The devolution revolution would see more powers and finance devolved from Westminster to the region to close the productivity gap and allow local people to benefit from a thriving economy. Currently productivity in the South West is running at less than 80 per cent of the national average.