Government should ‘turbocharge’ devolution and conclude agreements with first cohort of councils by end of this Autumn, county authorities urge

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2022 | 26 September 2022

The new government should go ‘further and faster’ on devolution than its predecessor and conclude devolution deals with the first cohort of county areas by the end of this Autumn, the County Councils Network (CCN) today urges.

It comes as the network publishes the second chapter of its Five Point Plan for County and Unitary Councils, which calls on the government to maintain the momentum on devolution and levelling up by ‘placing county authorities and their areas at the heart of a pro-growth agenda’

With the previous government agreeing devolution deals for North Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the summer, county leaders in the CCN are calling on the new Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke to conclude negotiations with the seven other areas by the end of November: ‘turbocharging’ devolution to other county areas.

Download Point 2 of the Five Point Plan by clicking the button below:

With England facing sluggish growth forecast for next year, and an ongoing cost-of-living crisis, county leaders say substantial investment and powers devolved to their areas will be vital in improving productivity of their local economies in the long run.

The network says that because of the economic outlook facing the country, once the first tranche of deals are concluded, the government should swiftly turn its attention to the rest of England’s counties and commit to beginning negotiations with at least two-thirds of CCN’s 36 council areas by the end of this Parliament.

The report argues that it is vital that ministers recommit to the Devolution Framework and Parliament approves the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which contains provisions to allow devolution models – ‘Combined County Authorities’ – like the one for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, alongside new Directly Elected County Leaders, to come into existence.

With the government announcing a new Planning & Infrastructure Bill as part of its Growth Plan, CCN’s Five Point Plan argues that, if necessary, the government should consider the option of ‘decoupling’ the more controversial planning aspects from the plans to get the Bill’s approval with just the devolutionary provisions in it.

Other key recommendations in the paper include:

  • County and unitary authorities leading local growth initiatives, accelerating the transfer of functions from Local Enterprise Partnerships to upper-tier authorities, alongside a commitment to ensure that county areas are not overlooked when it comes to policy focus and investment.
  • Expanding the scope of powers and funding available through the devolution framework and bespoke negotiations.
  • Government should press ahead with its commitment over the next 12 months to defragment funding for growth, creating bigger and more flexible local fund and consolidating funding at a strategic level for all local areas.
  • Any county or unitary authority that wants to develop a devolution deal, or is ready to deliver an investment zone, should also benefit from a single local growth settlement not just mayoral combined authorities

Cllr Martin Hill, Devolution Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said:

“Two of the new government’s key aims are growing the economy and addressing the cost-of-living crisis. If we are to see the growth needed to boost productivity and bring down inflation, it is vital that economies in all four corners of the country are firing on all cylinders.

“County authorities are not short of ambition but the majority of them lack the powers and investment enjoyed by metro mayors in city areas, which is why it is imperative that the government ensures that the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is passed through Parliament as soon as possible.

“When the Bill is passed, there should be no let up from the government. We urge ministers to go further and faster than before, turbocharging devolution so more of our great counties are able to able to benefit quicker.”