Devolution and what it means for Nottingham
Recently George Osborne signed a deal with the political leaders of the Sheffield City Region, which includes devolution of power and funding, including £30m per year over 30 years. There are six stands to the proposals – Enterprise, Skills, Built Environment (Housing), Transport, SMART Infrastructure (Digital and Energy) and Public Sector Reform, in addition to the instalment of a mayor. There are four areas that will be covered by a mayor – Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster. Sheffield’s agreement follows Manchester’s deal announced last year.
It is clear that there is a welter of political backing for the devolution agenda: the chancellor is staking his reputation on the Northern Powerhouse, and the fallout of the Scottish referendum and election result has helped to bring it to centre stage. What started with the small-scale city deals of recent years is leading to a full-blooded reversal of decades of centralisation of power and resources.
Political leadership in Nottingham and the connected region has responded to the opportunities that the devolution agenda will provide. Recently, Ian Curryer, Nottingham City Council’s chief executive outlined the current state of play.
The Treasury is a presenting a ‘two-speed’ choice to qualifying urban areas. The more substantive and ambitious choice comes with a greater promise of funding and resources and a commitment to a continuous sequence of devolution; but it comes with the requirement for a mayor and substantial consensus between Nottingham and Derby – a deal for the N2D2 Metro. The less substantive choice offers a smaller shift of power and resource and is a one-off deal: when it is agreed there is no scope to develop or change it any time soon.
Behind closed doors, political leaders of the various authorities in the Nottingham and Derby urban area have to contend with the question of balancing their local imperatives and interests with the opportunities and potential benefits for the wider area. Having worked hard to reach a consensus, Whitehall will expect the region to make its choice and submit a package of proposals for devolution by November 2015. Announcements and a deal decision from Central Government should follow swiftly.
What will a devolution deal entail? A transfer of decision-making power and resources will focus on three broad areas:
Reform of public sector services and governance: Services are currently provided as a mishmash of local authorities and central government agencies. The idea is to have leadership accountable for them locally.
Infrastructure: Priorities and budgets for big ticket infrastructure projects will be set at a local level rather than having to take the begging bowl to London, which would in the future, allow projects such as the A453 or NET to go from inception to delivery more quickly.
Economic Development: This relates to programmes to facilitate economic growth and develop job opportunities and employment. The idea here is that local decision makers should be more in tune with local dynamics and therefore better placed to allocate resources.
What does it mean for businesses here? Clearly businesses will want to derive confidence that the capacity and competency of local government to undertake far reaching new powers and resources is met. But, I believe, this is an opportunity that the business community should rally behind. Failure to engage will sentence this region to an inferior status in the eyes of Westminster. If a deal is reached and as the details begin to emerge there will be a clear need for business leadership to help shape regional priorities around the three areas of public service provision, infrastructure and economic development.
21 October 2015
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