Friday, 1 July 2016

Devolution deal goes ahead despite concerns

On Wednesday South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset and Bristol councils all agreed to go ahead with the West of England devolution deal, which will create a new West of England Combined Authority with a "Metro Mayor".

While the Liberal Democrats support devolution, we felt unable to support this deal and proposed an amendment calling for a renegotiation, which was outvoted. We felt £30m a year over 30 years wasn't good enough for an area with our economic clout and there were still too many unanswered questions, including around the 5 yearly tests that will decide whether we actually get the money.

The Government's insistence on a Metro Mayor led to North Somerset backing out of the deal and asking the other West of England councils to renegotiate. Instead, they have pushed ahead as three councils, leaving us with a messy situation where we will have a Joint Strategic Plan and Joint Transport Plan covering four authorities, but a combined authority and Metro Mayor covering just three.

George Osborne was very much behind the deal but it was strongly opposed by Liam Fox, now contesting the Tory Leadership, and another local BREXIT campaigner, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Given the turmoil in Westminster, we felt the councils should try to agree a better deal with the new Government.

Decisions will be made by the Metro Mayor, the two leaders from South Glos and BANES and the Bristol Mayor. When it became clear that the deal would be going ahead, we tried to win support for widening the decision making body. We felt this would not only better represent the political and geographic diversity of the West of England, but also ensure that there was buy-in across the political spectrum for long term projects that outlive a single four year council term. This proposal too was rejected.

Lib Dem Group Leader Ruth Davis said, “This deal is being pushed through despite Lib Dem concerns, and we will need to find a way to make it work. The Mayor should not be imposed on the West against our will. We call on everyone to answer the consultation to make clear to the Secretary of State that we want devolved powers, we want more money, but we don’t want an unnecessary new layer of government."

The formal consultation will take place over the summer, with the responses going to the Secretary of State. We will let you know how you can respond when we have the details.

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