Monitoring HM Government news releases during a period of heightened focus – a Prime Minister’s Cabinet and Government reshuffle for example – is all part of a day’s work at Cratus. Some 10 months after the report was anticipated, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government released their Secretary of State’s Annual Report on Devolution 2016-17 last week. The lack of fanfare reflects the report’s contents, a list of devolution agreements reached in the previous year with details of one additional submission reflecting North of Tyne’s devolved ambitions.
The report’s main duty is to document devolution agreements reached between April 2016 and March 2017 and for those intrinsically linked to the local government sector, there’s nothing new to report. And that’s the point. Beyond the devolved powers to six new combined authorities, there hasn’t been much in the way of statutory progress for local devolution in the year up to March 2017. North of Tyne submitted their proposal but agreement couldn’t be reached prior to March. At last year’s Autumn Budget, HM Government announced that it had agreed a ‘minded to’ devolution deal with the North of Tyne authorities, which has since been subject to the consent of local partners.
Just before Christmas, the £600m North of Tyne devolution deal received the backing from Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council (who voted to leave the North East Combined Authority) and Northumberland County Council who will now work to create a new mayoral combined authority. Their consultation runs until 05 February 2018. If formal powers are granted by the Local Government Minister, the 30-year £600m deal has the potential to create 10,000 jobs and attract £2.1bn in private investment.
South of the region, devolution talks have stalled after Gateshead, Sunderland, South Tyneside and Durham rejected a previous deal over claims it was not a financially fair deal.
In Sheffield, the City Region Deal received the backing from just two local authorities, during a long-running debate on devolution across Yorkshire. The 30-year £900m funding package to devolve powers over infrastructure investment, transport, skills and housing was seen as a land grab by Sheffield, Bassetlaw and Chesterfield local authorities.
An alternative One Yorkshire deal is gaining traction amongst 15 Yorkshire councils, a proposal put forward by elected members in Leeds. Doncaster and Barnsley councils spent more than £250,000 on polling their residents with more than 85,500 residents turning out to cast their vote. 85% of Doncaster’s voters supported the proposals to devolve power to the whole of Yorkshire over a Sheffield city region deal. In Barnsley, the wider deal received 84% of the vote.
Yorkshire authorities must, however, tackle head on the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government position which has committed to the existing Sheffield City Region Deal. Reaching a compromise with central government will be no easy task but local government is often faced with compromise and negotiation as the only option to progress their ambitions for greater devolved powers.