Counties 'need more devo deal details'

25 Sep 15

The forthcoming Spending Review needs to provide more details on how devolution of powers to councils will be spread across the country, a senior local government figure has said.

The forthcoming Spending Review needs to provide more details on how devolution of powers to councils will be spread across the country, a senior local government figure has said.

At County Hall in Maidstone, Kent is preparing devolution proposals for January. Photo: Kent County Council

 

Following the passage of the deadline for authorities to submit their devolution bids, County Councils Network chair Paul Carter told Public Finance that all upper-tier authorities were working on devolution plans.

However, he added that some, such his own authority of Kent, had not issued final bids by the 5 September deadline to avoid rushing the plans.

Kent’s proposals should be ready by January, and Carter called for more information on how devolution deals – which have so far mainly been reached with combined authorities in city regions such as Greater Manchester – will happen elsewhere.

He said that 5 September was primarily a cut-off for authorities that wanted to develop plans based on the combined authority and elected mayor model favoured for cities, although some counties are also among the 38 submissions [see box].

Treasury minister Jim O'Neill has previously said that only limited devolution would be offered to areas that do not adopt elected mayors.

But Cornwall Council is to take on some extra powers without the post, and Carter said he believes governance reform is “not a total precondition” to extra powers.

“I think there are very few counties, if any, that will want to see a directly-elected mayor,” he told PF.

On 11 September, Communities Secretary Greg Clark set out some details of the bids received. He said local leaders are embracing the devolution opportunity. Proposals covered services including education, transport, healthcare, housing and business support.

Devolution could lead to the most radical shake up of local governance in a generation, he said.

“This ‘one nation government’ is determined to ensure power is devolved from Whitehall to town halls, to put an end to the old north-south divide and rebalance our economy.”

 

Pick and mix plans


Pooled assets

North East: Fiscal devolution programme to allow for the local retention of the proceeds of growth

West Midlands: Significant financial flexibilities to create ten- year £8bn investment fund.

Liverpool: creation of a land commission to reform public sector estate and full local retention of business rates

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire: 19 local authorities backed call for new income generation powers for infrastructure. Could back mayor

Cumbria: County has called for full-scale merger of emergency services such as police, fire and ambulance

East Sussex, Surrey and West Sussex: Three Southern Counties group want full retention of business rate to potentially end government top-ups and tariffs

 

Speaking to PF as he takes up post as chair of the County Councils Network, Carter also called for greater differentiation in the Spending Review to reflect pressures at different tiers of local government.

He said the local government settlements needed to do more to reflect the demand pressures faced by councils, which for counties included pressures including social care and concessionary travel.

“The elastic is getting close to reaching its breaking point, therefore one needs to evaluate different funding regimes for different tiers of local government – from districts to unitaries to metropolitan authorities – and have a fairer settlement for those that are meeting significant pressures beyond their control,” he added.

Carter said the November 25 review was “not going to be good for any area of local government, but we’ve taken significant reductions government grant that support local government services”.

He added: “We obviously would like to see an adjustment for those authorities where there are clearly demographic pressures that are going to massively increase costs.

“One of the major ones would be the rising demand for social care services in counties, where we have a much larger proportion of elderly people and growing, compared to, say, London. To a degree, concessionary fares also fall into that, as the grant is fixed but the demand is growing and we have a growing proportion of elderly people living in our communities putting significant pressures on that budget. In Kent, we are shortchanged to the tune of £4-5m on concessionary fare alone. It’s a big sum of money, and pressures on counties are building up to millions of pounds.”

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