Councillor A Dale, Leader of the Council
The report to Council explained that the Derby City, Derbyshire County, Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County (D2N2) ‘Upper Tier’ authorities had proposed that an East Midlands Mayoral County Combined Authority covering these areas be established. This Combined Authority would be comparable to those in other areas which had already established Directly Elected Mayors, such as South Yorkshire. The report made clear that these arrangements would also ensure that the greatest transfer of powers and resources from a national level to the region could now take place.
Members were informed that the Upper Tier Authorities had put these proposals out to public consultation, which was scheduled to run until 9 January 2023. They would then decide whether or not to proceed with them.The report proposed that following Council’s discussion of the proposals, the minutes on this Item be submitted to the Upper-Tier authorities, as the Council’s response to the consultation. This would enable all those Members who wished to speak on the report to have their views taken into account by the Upper Tier Authorities, in deciding on whether to proceed.
The Leader of the Council, Councillor A Dale, supported this approach. He moved that the recommendations be approved. He then set out his own views on the proposals.
The Leader of the Council made clear his reservations about the inclusion of a directly Elected Mayor within the proposed governance arrangements and highlighted possible alternatives to this. However, Councillor Dale reminded Members that under the Government’s Devolution Framework the region could only receive the greatest transfer of powers and resources from a national level if the proposals included a Directly Elected Mayor. He also contended that the Mayoral County Combined Authority would put the region in a better position to potentially unlock access to further funding and devolution of powers in the future.
The Leader of the Council sought to address the concerns which had been raised about the proposed arrangements. In particular, he emphasised that the new Combined Authority would be directly elected from across the whole East Midlands region. This meant that it could be expected to use its powers and resources to benefit all of the region’s counties and communities, rather than to concentrate on the two large city areas. He also pointed out that under the proposals, power and responsibilities would be devolved downwards from national government. He stressed that no functions or resources would be taken away from the existing local authorities, including the District Councils.
Councillor Dale concluded by making clear that he would be prepared to support the proposals, including the creation of a Directly Elected Mayor for the Combined Authority, as a price worth paying to ensure that the East Midlands region could finally access the funding necessary to improve the Education, Transport and other Infrastructure, which had lagged behind that of other regions over many years and under different national governments. He contended that the Council and the North East Derbyshire District had much to gain from the proposed Combined Authority and nothing to fear.
Councillor B Lewis welcomed the opportunity for the Council to discuss the proposals. He emphasised the opportunity which they offered for significant devolution of powers and resources to the region and the way in which this devolution could help left-behind communities, by funding the social and physical improvements which they need to prosper.
Councillor Lewis explained the role that would be played by the proposed Mayor and how this would complement rather than conflict with the role of the District Councils. The Districts would be genuine partners in the new arrangements, retaining their existing responsibilities and funding and would play a key role in helping to shape and deliver any new initiatives. He stressed the cost effectiveness of the proposed arrangements. They would not create an expensive additional tier of local government, but rather would unlock benefits and to help achieve transformative change across the East Midlands region.
The Vice Chair of the Council, Martin Thacker MBE, reminded Council of previous initiatives to create larger unitary local authorities, the benefits that had been suggested for them and the disruption which they had caused. In this context, Councillor Thacker queried the effectiveness of the existing region-wide working arrangements, including the Local Enterprise Partnership, in helping to meet the needs of the Districts across the region. He also pointed out how similar proposals for Mayoral County Combined Authorities had now been abandoned elsewhere, because of concerns about whether they would be effective.
Councillor Thacker discussed the perceived lack of engagement with Second-Tier authorities, such as the Council, in developing the proposals. He also raised concerns that a Mayoral County Combined Authority for the region might not be able to deliver the economic and other benefits claimed for it. He highlighted examples from elsewhere to help illustrate these concerns.
Councillor Thacker questioned the size of the proposed Mayoral County Combined Authority and whether it would be able to adequately represent and serve the many different communities that it would cover. He also highlighted the damage which a Combined Authority might cause to local democracy, by weakening the link between local government and the local communities which it represents. He concluded by calling on all Members to stand up for the interests of the Council and for the North East Derbyshire District.
The Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor N Barker, welcomed the devolution of powers and resources to a local level. He questioned whether this devolution ought to require the creation of a new body, but rather suggested that additional funding should be made available to existing local authorities. He felt it likely that the focus for any additional resources would be on the major Cities, rather than the Districts. He believed that in the long run a Mayoral County Combined Authority would make use of its precept powers. This would lead to further local government reorganisation and the likely abolition of District and Borough Councils within the region. The abolition of North East Derbyshire and other local District Councils, he argued, would fundamentally damage the democratic link with local communities.
Councillor Barker contended that the proposal to share the minutes of the meeting as the Council’s response to the proposals did not go far enough, but rather that the Council ought to make clear that it opposed the proposals. He moved an Amendment to the Substantive Motion
(1) That Council note:
1.1 The details of the draft Devolution Deal that was signed on 30 August 2022.
1.2 The process for establishing the East Midlands Mayoral County Combined Authority, which is currently undergoing consultation.
(2) That Council responds to the currently live consultation on the draft Devolution Deal by requesting that the Leader submit a response on behalf of Council:
2.1 Expressing Council’s opposition to the Devolution Deal as currently drafted as not being in the best interests of the residents of North East Derbyshire.
2.2 Expressing Council’s support to the devolving of powers to a local level but that this Council believes those powers should be devolved to existing local councils and that it does not support creating a Mayor for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
2.3 Expressing Council’s opposition to the proposed geographical basis of the Devolution Deal linking Derbyshire to Nottinghamshire to form a Combined County Authority.
The Amended Motion was seconded by Councillor J Barry, who reserved her right to speak.
Councillor Dale reiterated the benefits of Council debating the issue and for the minutes of the debate to form the Council’s response to the consultation. He indicated that he intended to abstain on the Amendment, but would comply with its request to inform the Upper Tier authorities on the position of the Council, if the Amended Motion was passed.
Councillor K Gillott indicated that he would abstain on the amendment in his capacity as a Member of Derbyshire County Council. He briefly summarised what he felt were the key issues about the proposals that would need to be addressed.
Councillor M Foster highlighted the possible devolution of responsibility for National Development Management Strategies and the implications this would have for the Council’s own Local Plan. Councillor M Foster felt that too great a level of power and control would rest with the Combined Authority. He feared that it would become a tier of local government in its own right, which could result in further reorganisation and the abolition of the District Councils. He also questioned the long term value of the resources to be devolved and the way in which they would be allocated.
Councillor M Roe reflected on his experience of those areas covered by Directly Elected Mayors and their apparent lack of effectiveness. He expressed concern about the implications of the proposals for District Council areas and highlighted the relatively low levels of resources to be devolved, given the size of the area that would be covered by the Combined Authority.
Councillor A Foster indicated that she preferred the approach proposed by Councillor A Dale, that the minutes of the meeting, illustrating the views of Members, should be submitted as the Council’s response to the consultation. Councillor A Foster expressed reservations about whether a Mayoral County Combined Authority would be the most appropriate governance arrangement for devolution. In this context, she highlighted the decision by Leicester City Council and Leicester County Council not to recommend participation in a Combined Authority and their likely concerns about a Directly Elected Mayor.
Councillor A Foster highlighted the impact of the proposals on democratic accountability, by creating a further tier of local government which would be detached from local people. She questioned the likely cost of the proposals and the potential implications for the future governance of Police and Fire Services across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Councillor J Kenyon made clear his reservations about the proposed Mayoral County Combined Authority. He regretted that the case for a Directly Elected Mayor had not been made, he also expressed concerns about the size of the proposed East Midlands region that the Combined Authority would cover. He indicated that he would support the proposed Amendment, as a way to feedback the concerns about the proposals which had been raised.
Councillor B Lewis welcomed the debate. He reiterated his view that the original approach, of sharing the opinions of Members through the minutes of the meeting, would be a more effective way for Council to respond to the public consultation exercise. He also sought to address some of the concerns which had been raised about the level of funding to be devolved.
Councillor J Birkin referred to the amount of money to be devolved and its value over time. He questioned the purpose of the consultation exercise and whether a binding referendum to find out the views of local people would have been better. The Seconder of the Amendment to the Motion, Councillor Jayne Barry, then exercised her right to speak. She questioned whether the proposed Devolution Deal would improve the lives of people in North East Derbyshire and noted that the Leader of the Council had only said that it ‘could’ do this. She regretted that neither the Council nor the people of North East Derbyshire had been asked if they did or did not agree with the proposal.
Councillor C Cupit expressed disappointment with the Amendment. She felt that the debate provided Members with an opportunity to have their say on the proposals and for the outcome of this debate to then inform the consultation. She indicated that she would abstain on the Amendment, as she would wish to comment on the final proposals following on from the consultation.
At the conclusion of the debate the Amendment to the motion was put to the vote and was approved. It then became the Amended Substantive Motion.
Councillor R Welton spoke on the Amended Substantive Motion, in order to record his opposition to what he regarded as a top-down government proposal. He felt that there was no local support for a Directly Elected Regional Mayor, that, if established, the Combined Authority would make use of its tax raising powers and would ultimately lead to the abolition of the District Councils, which would damage the good links which currently exist between local councils and local communities. He also expressed concerns about the potential lack of accountability for mayoral decisions on future development and the Greenbelt.
Councillor R Shipman welcomed the amended motion, which he thought would make clear what the views of the Council on the proposals were. He felt that all Members would support devolution, but argued that this could be done through existing local authority structures, rather than requiring Combined Authority Mayors.
The Substantive Motion (as amended) was then put to the vote and was approved.
(1) That Council noted:
(i) The details of the draft Devolution Deal that was signed on 30 August 2022.
(ii) The process for establishing the East Midlands Mayoral County Combined Authority, which is currently undergoing consultation.
(2) That the Leader of the Council be requested to submit a response by the Council to the currently live consultation on the draft Devolution Deal, expressing:
(a) Council’s opposition to the Devolution Deal as currently drafted as not being in the best interests of the residents of North East Derbyshire.
(b) Council’s support to the devolving of powers to a local level but that this Council believes those powers should be devolved to existing local councils and that it does not support creating a Mayor for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
(c) Expressing Council’s opposition to the proposed geographical basis of the Devolution Deal linking Derbyshire to Nottinghamshire to form a Combined County Authority.