The agreement, reached with Cornwall Council today, is the first devolution deal agreed with a county authority as part of the government’s attempts to boost the powers of local authorities.
Following the election of the Conservative government, Chancellor George Osborne said he wanted to devolve powers to councils, although he insisted that mayors would be needed for city combined authorities.
He confirmed in last week’s Budget that discussions were underway with Sheffield, West Yorkshire and Liverpool city regions to agree devolved powers, based on them accepting elected mayors. Plans have already been set out for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to take control of NHS spending after it agreed to establish a mayoralty for the city region.
However, the powers agreed today will enable Cornwall Council and the council of the Isles of Scilly to work with local health organisations on a plan for integrating health and social care services without such a post.
Announcing the agreement, communities secretary Greg Clark said the Cornwall deal could be the first of many for counties around the country.
He added: “This ‘one nation’ government is determined to end the hoarding of power in Whitehall and put it in the hands of local people who know their area best.
“This historic deal ensures Cornwall has the powers and resources that will allow it to create the jobs and services it knows are best suited to the area and that will help local people and the county thrive.”
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is currently passing through Parliament and puts in place the legal framework across the country that will make it simpler for devolving more powers to more places, he highlighted. The government wanted strong leadership to be in place for areas seeking additional powers.
Other elements of the deal include powers to franchise local bus services by 2018, similar to the system in London, and giving the council powers to select the projects to benefit from inward investment funding from next April.
Cornwall council leader John Pollard said the deal was brilliant news for the authority.
“We were early in recognising the growing momentum of the national agenda for devolving powers from Westminster and, by creating a Case for Cornwall which was strong and realistic we have had a positive response from the government,” he said.
“This is the first stage of a longer journey towards delivering the full case for Cornwall. We will now be working with partners to develop an integrated health and social care system, and deliver significant economic growth, with enhanced business support, greater access to employment and training opportunities, together with a much improved public transport network and more efficient use of public sector buildings.”
Responding to the announcement, Mark Hawthorne, acting chair of the County Councils Network, said it was welcome that a county would take control of powers including the franchising of bus services, infrastructure and skills investment, and European funding.
“Given the potential benefits of devolution to county areas we expect to see the deal grow and develop over time, as the Greater Manchester deal has,” he added.
“Today’s agreement also sets a precedent for bringing more decisions and services closer to county communities across England, and could see the potential of county economies maximised to help meet government growth ambitions and plans to boost productivity.”