Proposals for devolved council powers

Published on 25 June 2015

THE city mayor and council leaders in Leicestershire have announced proposals to create a combined authority to work together on major regional issues including economic growth, transport and planning.

Leicester’s City Mayor, Leicestershire County Council’s leader and leaders of the seven district councils have agreed in principle proposals for a joint body dealing with major decisions affecting the entire city and county.

The new combined body would not replace any local councils or services, but instead would ensure more joined-up thinking and long-term strategic planning in four key areas – land use and planning, transport, skills, funding and finance.

They met on Thursday, June 25, to confirm their proposals, which will be sent to Government in July for its consideration.

The proposal will seek to devolve decision-making powers and funding from London to the Leicester and Leicestershire area, which is home to a million people in total – around 330,000 living in the city, and more than 600,000 across the county.

Planning for major developments such as housing and employment would see the councils working together to agree a clearer, long-term framework to meet local needs and growth.

Combining responsibility for transport would see the councils focusing on long-term investment in highway and public transport infrastructure, and strengthens the case in future for more devolved powers and a greater say in improving local public transport.

A single strategic commissioning body would be created to drive and deliver skills and training, to give local people the chance to get better qualifications and employment.

Finally, devolved powers over funding and finance would enable local councils to create more enterprise zones, such as Loughborough University Science and Enterprise Park, the East Midlands Enterprise Gateway in North West Leicestershire, and the Waterside developments in Leicester.

In turn this will enable local councils to retain more of the money they get from business rates, in order to re-invest it in other key business developments vital to create economic growth.

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: ”In the city and county, we have an area which is home to a million people, and councils which already have a proven track record of working together successfully to make things happen – that’s the key to delivering growth together.

“I firmly believe that the those who have been elected by local people should be in the driving seat in making decisions about where to invest and how best to support local people and businesses, rather than it being decided by Central Government.”

Leicestershire County Council leader, Nick Rushton, added: “Creating a combined authority will help accelerate the growth of the local economy and create more jobs for local people.

“When decisions about investment are made locally, rather than in Whitehall, it is much more likely that their impact will be maximised, overcoming local barriers to growth and supporting local priorities.

“I particularly welcome the proposals which will enable us to take a longer-term approach to planning for economic growth, and for investing in transport infrastructure across the city and county.”

The city, county and district councils already work closely together as part of the Leicester and Leicestershire Economic Partnership (LLEP), whose Strategic Economic Plan has pledged to create 45,000 new private sector jobs, attract £2.5bn of private sector investment and increase the value of goods and services produced in the area to £23bn by 2020.

Nick Pulley, chair of the LLEP, said: “We are seeing business growth and new jobs being created across Leicestershire and we need to make sure that we have the right tools locally to support these businesses and ensure that we remain competitive.

“The LLEP fully supports this move for devolved powers around skills, business rates and business support funding. We also see the better coordination of local transport and housing strategies across the LLEP as an essential way to make sure that this great county is ready for the economic growth that we are all working towards.”

Charnwood Borough Council leader, Cllr David Slater, added: “District Council Leaders fully support the principle of a combined authority for Leicestershire, as it has the potential to deliver economic prosperity for every corner of the city and county.

“This is about taking on extra powers and funding from central Government and giving district and borough councils in Leicestershire the ability to make more decisions locally about its future.

“These decisions will be quicker, arguably better and more representative of the needs of local people.

“I believe a combined authority will enable district councils to deliver more of what is right for residents.”

The process of establishing a combined authority is estimated to take about six months and will include discussions between the councils and businesses, MPs and those involved in education, skills and training.

Once detailed proposals have been drawn up, there will also be a public consultation process.

The full devolution process could take up to twelve months to complete.