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Devolution latest: Government defeats move to halt rise of metro mayors

Devolution latest: Government defeats move to halt rise of metro mayors

🕔26.Oct 2015

The Government has underlined its commitment to elected metro mayors at the heart of devolution for English city regions.

An attempt by the House of Lords to amend the Cities and Devolution Bill by removing the requirement that local authorities will need a directly elected mayor if they are to receive major devolved powers has been overturned by MPs.

The Commons voted by 301 to 220 to reject the Lords’ attempt to water down the Bill.

Local Government Minister James Wharton stressed there need to be strong and clear accountability for councils and combined authorities seeking devolved powers.

Mr Wharton said:

Mayoral governance for cities is a proven model that works around the world—it is indeed the model of governance for world-class cities.

But he stressed the Government was not imposing mayors anywhere and the matter was entirely in the hands of council leaders who had to decide which form of governance best suited their regions.

The Government has also seen off plans by Labour and the Liberal Democrats to impose referendums on combined authorities wishing to move to an elected metro mayor, placing the final decision in the hands of electors.

Mr Wharton said imposing referendums would not fully recognise the role that democratically elected council leaders and councilors could legitimately have.

All but one of the major devolution deals approved so far by the Government involve councils accepting metro mayors. Greater Manchester, the North East, Teesside and South Yorkshire combined authorities have all agreed to move to a mayoral system. Only Cornwall has managed to negotiate a major devolution deal without moving to a mayor.

The shadow West Midlands Combined Authority has submitted a draft devolution deal to the Treasury which is based on a metro mayor. Talks are continuing.

Mr Wharton told MPs the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill was not about powers being taken up from local councils and authorities, unless they choose to pool them with combined authorities. This was about shifting powers from Westminster and Whitehall he said.

He  stressed that the Government’s devolution policy was a bottom-up one, and there had to be access for to all parts of England, including rural and coastal areas, counties, towns and cities.

In response to a question from Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, North East Somerset), Wharton said that no area would be compelled to agree a devolution deal.

Mr Wharton went through a number of amendments that had been tabled and explained why the Government would not be supporting them. However, he stressed the desire to build on the broad consensus throughout the House on devolution.

Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Labour member for Sheffield South East, Clive Betts said that if the Government were “committed to considering bespoke arrangements on devolution for particular parts of our country and considering requests from combined authorities—why do we need one element of imposition in all this”.

He said he did not understand why Government was so insistent on “having a mayor as a solution.”

He called for the Government to listen to the idea of some sort of independent body to look at the issues around powers. Mr Betts said:

We cannot legislate for double devolution because in the end, devolution has to allow areas to do things their own way, but there is a role for ministers, parliamentarians and the LGA to get the message across that devolution does not stop at the town hall door.

William Wragg (Con, Hazel Grove) asked the Minister to accept and amendment that “fundamental changes to local government and the governance of my constituency are put to the test at a referendum, so that they can be endorsed and back the Government’s welcome programme of devolution.”

Mr Wharton welcomed the retention of “the cross-party support for the Bill’s broad objectives”.

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee is meeting in Manchester today with witnesses including Interim Greater Manchester Mayor Tony Lloyd and Liverpool’s City Mayor Joe Anderson.

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