Plymouth could be merged into a Devon “super council” but is opposing any moves to be ruled by a directly elected mayor. Under government devolution proposals, Plymouth City Council could become part of a combined authority with Devon and Torbay.
William Telford www.plymouthherald.co.uk
But while council chiefs would be happy with this outcome, which could come with increased government investment, they are not so keen on having an elected mayor for the area. A delegation from the three Devon councils recently travelled to Westminster to make its case.
Plymouth City Council’s Tory leader Richard Bingley joined Devon County Council’s John Hart, also a Conservative, and Torbay’s Lib Dem leader Steve Darling in a mission to meet Dehenna Davison, parliamentary under secretary of state in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The Devon politicians pressed the case for a devolution deal that would see the Government award more powers to a new combined authority for the county. The trio said they had a “positive” meeting with the under-secretary.
Cllr Bingley said: “We had a very positive meeting with the minister and expressed our shared desire to have a combined authority with powers moved out of Government and into the hands of local politicians. While there is no desire to have a directly elected mayor here, we believe there is huge potential for a deal that would give us greater control in delivering our shared priorities.”
In 2022, the three authorities united to pilot one of the Government’s nine new county deals which were announced in the Levelling Up white paper. The nine areas invited to begin negotiations were Cornwall; Derbyshire and Derby; Devon, Plymouth and Torbay; Durham; Hull and East Yorkshire; Leicestershire; Norfolk; Nottinghamshire and Nottingham; and Suffolk.
The three options open to these areas include:
- Remaining as they are now but with the separate authorities working more closely to deliver services.
- Forming a single institution or county council, which could have additional powers for such things as transport, bus franchising, the adult education budget and compulsory purchase.
- Having a directly elected mayor, which comes with greater control over transport funding and the powers to identify a key transport networks and to establish mayoral development corporations.
In August 2022, Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire councils together signed a devolution deal which will include the creation of a directly-elected mayor for the East Midlands. In February 2023 a consultation began in Cornwall on whether the duchy should accept a new deal providing new powers and funding and have a new directly elected mayor. The issue divided people across the county after Cornwall Council distributed a 34-page Cornwall Devolution Deal documentary and consultation materials.
In 2022, Devon County Council issued a statement saying a combined authority without an elected mayor would “enable councils to work together strategically whilst respecting the sovereignty of their respective authorities.” It is understood the three authorities would welcome the opportunity to become a centralised focus for government investment.
It is also hoped that in return for making such a substantial change to the way the authorities are run, the Government may look to provide more infrastructure and skills investment.
The Government is keen to devolve powers over adult skills, infrastructure projects, and transport systems such as bus routes. Past devolution settlements in metropolitan areas have included these elements, plus powers over other forms of integrated transport, business support, planning and land use.
They have also come with a 30-year investment fund of between £15m and £38m annually and in some cases more extensive powers over health, housing and policing.
Ultimately the Government is keen that every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with “powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement” by 2030.