Agenda item

East Midlands Devolution Deal

The report of the Chief Executive is attached.


The Leader and Portfolio Holder for Strategic and Borough-wide Leadership, Councillor Robinson, presented the report of the Chief Executive, outlining the East Midlands Devolution Deal.


The Leader referred to the Government’s Levelling Up Bill released in February 2020, which contained a commitment to devolution in all areas by 2030 and noted that the Bill also contained a sub list of priority places, one of which was Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.  Consequently, the four Upper Tier local authorities of Nottingham City, Nottinghamshire County Council, Derby City and Derbyshire County Council had expressed their interest.  The Leader explained that the devolution framework offered three levels of devolution, with the top level, level three, being a Combined Authority with a Mayor.  The Leader confirmed that this was the level that the four Upper Tier authorities had chosen to pursue and that subsequently, both he and the Chief Executive, had been working with them and the Nottinghamshire district local authorities to discuss shaping a deal, which would work for the D2N2 region.  Council was informed that discussions included looking at transport, adult skills, budgets and referred to the offer of £1.14bn of Government funding over a thirty year span, equating to £38m per year.  The Leader added that this funding would be seed capital, which could be borrowed against, and attract external investment.  The Leader stated that the Government had also offered introduction funding of £18m to be spent by April 2023 and advised that it had been decided to accelerate the Devolution Deal, with the four Upper Tier authorities signing an in principle agreement in August 2022.  The Leader confirmed that it was important for Councillors to have time to reflect on the proposals, noting that the proposal presented was an in principle deal rather than a final deal.  Council was advised that districts and boroughs were not signatories to the deal, which had been signed by the four Upper Tiers.  In terms of the roadmap going forward, the Leader stated that work would continue to shape the agreement, and the deal would then be taken to Full Council meetings of the Upper Tier authorities before going out for consultation to businesses and residents across the D2N2 region.  Subject to the consultation, the deal would then go to Parliament for primary and secondary legislation, an interim shadow Board would be set up in May 2023, with a target for Mayoral elections to be held in May 2024.


The Leader drew Council’s attention to section 4.7 of the report which set out the potential powers and also to the brochure in Appendix 1.


In conclusion, the Leader explained that the deal offered potential delivery of projects such as a fourth Trent Bridge crossing, HS2 connectivity and devolved rail powers.  The Leader confirmed that the deal was an in principle agreement and that this was purely a discussion, as reflected in the recommendations, and that any potential deal would be brought back to Full Council.


Councillor Brennan seconded the recommendation and reserved the right to speak.


Councillor Gowland thanked the Leader for bringing the report before Full Council and stated that the Labour Group believed in localism and devolution, and in principle favoured the ideas, whilst also having many issues and questions regarding the proposal.  Councillor Gowland referred to the combination of councils and stated that it was not clear geographically why it would be those two counties, and thought that this, amongst other things, would confuse electors.  Councillor Gowland considered that an additional layer of bureaucracy would make matters worse, and that when people did not know who was responsible for things it limited democracy, as they did not know who was accountable.  Councillor Gowland stated that the name of the deal was inappropriate, as it was not an East Midlands deal, rather a Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire deal, and there was also confusion with other entities such as the Enterprise Zone and Freeport.  In relation to the £1.14bn over thirty years, Council was advised that although it was difficult to know how many people were in the zone, this was likely to equate to about £15 per head and Councillor Gowland questioned whether there was any evidence that the pump priming would work. 


In conclusion, Councillor Gowland questioned where the money would come from, whether there was any guarantee that it would come, and questioned why the deal had been pushed through in August.  Councillor Gowland asked about the costs and time taken by officers working on the deal, referred to the lack of public consultation and stated that a face to face meeting to discuss the deal would be welcomed.


Councillor Jones appreciated the report being brought before Full Council and stated that everyone could see the attractions of coordinated travel, better skills training and improving life in areas of poverty.  Councillor Jones stated that the Liberal Democratic Group was fully behind localisation and that in principle functions moving out of Central Government was welcomed.  Councillor Jones advised that he did not consider that a Mayor was needed in order for powers to be devolved, as local authorities could be required to work together and operate the same Cabinet system as envisaged in this deal.  Councillor Jones stated that the cost of elections for Mayors and the tendency for them to require a coterie around them would waste money and advising the public as to who was responsible for what services would become vaguer.  Councillor Jones referred to the East Midlands area being wider than Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and so presumed that the arrangements in the report could be extended at some point and asked, if so, how much money would come with that.  He stated that the £38m per year for thirty years sounded too appealing and that without knowing the precise responsibility and powers, which would fall to the new body it was meaningless.  Councillor Jones said that, whilst accepting that it was not Rushcliffe Borough Council’s responsibility, the report lacked substance and that retrofitting and reducing areas of poverty could easily use that money across all of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.


In conclusion, Councillor Jones stated that the report was full of nice aspirations but lacked precision and asked that it be recorded that the Liberal Democrat Group did not endorse the report.


Councillor R Mallender noted the interesting ideas in the document and considered that having a bigger voice for D2N2 would be good but asked what opportunities there would be for other parts of the East Midlands to join in the future should they so wish, and what would happen to other projects such as the Freeport and East Midlands Development Corporation should Leicestershire or Leicester city wish to join.  Councillor Mallender also referred to Bristol, where people had recently voted to no longer have a City Council Mayor, whilst retaining their Combined Authority Executive Mayor, and asked whether there would be an opportunity to expand that in the future.  Reference was also made to Northamptonshire, suggesting that there were potential aspects for future consideration.  Councillor Mallender agreed with the idea of devolving power to the area, which aligned with the Green Group principles, and considered that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate level.  Councillor Mallender thought that some of the ideas in the proposal, such as levelling up the housing stock and training, were very good, but questioned whether there would be any added value from the Combined Authority or whether the money could be spent more effectively through existing local authorities.  He asked why devolved powers could not be given to local authorities who were closer to local residents and questioned how residents would react to decisions being taken by an elected Mayor, who would be responsible for such a large geographical area.


In conclusion, Councillor Mallender stated that it was important to continue to be involved but suggested that this should not be taken as a done deal, adding that there were plenty of other options available and other ways to represent the people of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.


Councillor Thomas advised that she would prefer to see Central Government support Local Government through a sustained funding formula and questioned whether it was devolution in any real sense or an extra layer of governance, which took decisions further away from local people.  Councillor Thomas considered that Rushcliffe did not have a real seat at the table for the proposals and the costs, whether funded by the precept or revenue funded by Government, was all extra money to be found.  Councillor Thomas stated that there was also the extra complexity involved and thought that enough time was already spent signposting requests to the existing two layers of Local Government and asked whether a fourth layer was required.  Councillor Thomas also questioned why it was to be called the East Midlands Mayoral Authority and advised that parts of Rushcliffe looked to Leicestershire and Lincolnshire as much as to Nottinghamshire and thought that it needed a different name.  Councillor Thomas stated that Rushcliffe would need to fight hard to benefit from any funding from the new authority and that it would not be a level playing field, alongside the larger Upper Tier authorities.  Councillor Thomas suggested that Rushcliffe had to be prepared and very clear about its strategic priorities, requiring fully costed, oven ready projects for when opportunities arrived, and stated that officers were very good at this and needed to support Councillors to come up with ideas when business cases needing to be prepared.  Working on issues including insulating homes, taking forward Rushcliffe’s Net Zero Action Plan, getting brown field sites ready to benefit from affordable housing schemes, and working out what Rushcliffe’s priorities were in terms of transport needs would be required, so that they could be easily articulated into specific terms.


In conclusion, Councillor Thomas stated that she could not personally endorse the plans for a Mayoral Combined Authority and noted that the motion did not ask Councillors to do that, although perhaps it should.   Councillor Thomas stated that she did support the recommendation for the Leader and Chief Executive to continue to engage with the process and advised that she would abstain from voting.


Councillor S Mallender referred to suggested benefits including a better connected future, combined transport plans, developing smarter ticketing systems and concessionary fare schemes and noted that the first thing mentioned by the Leader had been a controversial road scheme.


The Leader clarified that he had referred to a bridge, not a road scheme.


Councillor Mallender advised that a rail bridge would be a very good idea; and went on to say that she was very worried that a greener future with new low carbon homes and retrofitting had been heard before; however, nothing had happened.  Council was advised that local authorities were still working with a planning system coming from Central Government, which resulted in the Council being unable to say what kind of developments it wanted in environmental standards terms.  Councillor Mallender stated that the Council would not really have any say in obtaining any of those benefits and was concerned about future Government policy and a lack of investment in local public transport.


In conclusion, Councillor Mallender stated that although she hoped to be proved wrong, she had grave doubts about the promises being made and could not endorse the idea but thought it very important that Rushcliffe remained in discussions.


Councillor Barney acknowledged that there was much uncertainty regarding the detail and how it would unfold, but that he drew much encouragement from the process getting to this point.  In a world of very challenging politics Councillor Barney was pleased that councils were working together to look at what could be done to get more money into the East Midlands.  Councillor Barney said that whilst it was possible to be cynical, the reality as it stood was that this promised to bring much needed money to the area, which he applauded and encouraged to continue.


In conclusion, Councillor Barney referred also to the benefits of an Elected Mayor and advised that the East Midlands lagged behind other areas in terms of attracting investments, as businesses and organisations looked for areas where they could have a face to face conversation with an individual, and an Elected Mayor would fulfil that role, as witnessed in other areas of the country.  Councillor Barney hoped for a great outcome from devolution for the region and hoped that it would include Leicester.


Councillor J Walker echoed the gratitude already expressed in bringing this report to Full Council and thought that it had been useful, although she questioned what kind of authority would be granted to local authorities as part of the devolution deal.  Councillor Walker referred to the proposed new Mayor and asked whether the new Mayor would be able to authorise core development, or could the new Mayor authorise things such as fracking. Councillor Walker stated that more detail was required about what kind of authority would be granted.


Councillor Way stated that there were a lot of positives from the proposal, such as integrated transport, which was needed as the area had connectivity problems, but thought that there were also areas of concern, for example the Prosperity Fund would become part of the responsibilities of the new organisation rather than how it was currently controlled locally.  Councillor Way stated that in the Government paper a huge amount of autonomy would be given to the Mayor and whilst she noted that there would also be a Cabinet system, it would be a small Cabinet by her understanding, and she was concerned that Councils such as Rushcliffe would not have much say.


In conclusion, Councillor Way stated that although she had many concerns about the proposal and thought that it required a lot more discussion, she supported the proposal that it should come back to Full Council for more discussion, or discussion outside of Council, and it was important that Rushcliffe had a seat at the table to convey the Borough’s point of view.


Councillor Brennan thought that the proposal was interesting and whilst people might have different perspectives and want different resolutions, she considered that many would share the same questions and concerns and agreed that there were questions still to be answered.  Councillor Brennan stated that the East Midlands in its broader sense had historically been underfunded and as a former Deputy Chief Executive of the Regional Development Agency, she was aware that one of the main reasons that the area did not receive funding was because it could not work in partnership. Councillor Brennan explained that the Chairman of the Regional Development Agency also did not have the statutory powers that local authorities had, and the local authorities had been unable to work together for a range of reasons.  Councillor Brennan stated that if it was possible to create a means by which local authorities were able and willing to share their sovereignty to deliver those types of objectives that could only be a good thing, as the East Midlands continued to remain underfunded and without a voice in Westminster or in Europe.  Whilst being in favour of the deal, Councillor Brennan shared the concerns raised regarding costs, how it would work, where power would reside and how it would be funded.  In respect of the geography of the area, Councillor Brennan confirmed that considerable time had been spent looking at this and stated that there was an economic sense to the D2N2 area and whilst it was not perfect, this did not mean that it should not go ahead.


In conclusion, Councillor Brennan recognised the need to protect the interests of local residents and the need to have a voice in discussions, and on that basis, seconded the recommendations that the Borough Council continued in discussions to argue vociferously for the needs of the Borough in the overall ambition.


The Leader thanked Councillors for their constructive comments, which would be useful to himself and the Chief Executive to take back and he suggested that there should be a workshop to discuss ideas further.  The Leader assured Councillors that districts were shaping proposals and were being listened to, with the Upper Tier authorities making it clear that districts needed to be involved, with seats on the Cabinet and having a direct say and voting rights as to how the Combined Authority would be run.  In respect of the geographical area, the Leader considered that it was a starting point and Government had agreed that other areas could join, for example Leicestershire.  The Leader confirmed that the D2N2 area incorporated 2.2m people so was a large area in itself.  The Leader referred to funding, which had a guarantee against it, for thirty years of £38m per year and to other existing Combined Authorities, which had generated significant borrowings and private investment, which had delivered successful projects, such as the Manchester tram system.  The Leader stated that businesses needed someone to talk to, someone who they could approach if they wanted to bring their business to the region and questioned who that would currently be.  With a Combined Authority it would be clear that it was the Mayor who would hold accountability and be able to open up those opportunities.  The Leader noted that roads and railways could not be built just for Rushcliffe, that the boroughs were interconnected, and he referred to the suggested bridge and explained that it could be a tram or a train bridge and that a Combined Authority would allow the local area to have control and budget for the best option.  The Leader noted comments about the infighting and lack of coordination currently, which detracted from investment.  The Leader referred to comments about the various bodies in the region, all of which had their own administrations and all of which could be brought together under the one umbrella of the Combined Authority.  In particular, the Leader highlighted that the D2N2 LEP, which was a great delivery body, and could become more efficient under the Combined Authority as part of one local voice for business.  The Leader referred to accountability and explained that the Mayor had a Cabinet and could not make decisions without going through that Cabinet, which would provide checks and balances.  The Leader confirmed that planning powers would remain with the boroughs, whilst still being subject to the national planning framework which was a separate matter.


The Leader summarised that he appreciated the support and comments this evening which he and the Chief Executive would take forward and affirmed his commitment to holding a workshop.




a)     that progress to date on the devolution and joint working programme, including the announcement of a deal offer from Government on 30 August 2022 be noted;


b)     that Council agreed that the Leader and Chief Executive should continue to engage with the process in order to ensure that Rushcliffe Borough Council can be represented as far as possible in ongoing discussions; and


c)     that a further update to be brought to Full Council on the completion of negotiations.

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