East Midlands devolution – A new County Mayor
The announcement of a new Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Combined Authority is a significant development for the economic and political direction of the East Midlands. Government has long expressed an ambition to widen the areas covered by combined authorities away from metropolitan counties, such as Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands to more rural areas.
The East Midlands is also the centre of the so called ‘red wall’ and is home to several constituencies which swung heavily towards the Conservatives in the post-Brexit era, in areas that had traditionally been strongly Labour. In recent years the area has seen strong growth in both residential housebuilding and logistics as well as retaining specialised manufacturing, especially along the M1 corridor.
Having missed out on HS2 and the kind of major government backed redeployments from London such as MediaCityUK in Salford and Channel 4 in Leeds, the East Midlands region feels ripe for substantial support as part of the famed ‘levelling up agenda.’
This is the first so-called, County Combined Authority, as it does not involve the district council’s that constitute Derbyshire and Nottingham outside of the cities of Derby and Nottingham.
The £1.14 billion funding agreement covers a time period of 30 years with powers covering transport, housing and skills. This new package is to be welcomed and should enable the unlocking of key regeneration sites across the region. However, research by the Local Government Chronicle points out that the £516 per head that this package represents is significantly less than has been seen in other new combined authorities.
The new authority will also have £17m of funding for new homes on brownfield land in 2024-25, as well as £18m to support housing priorities and drive net zero plans.
The success or otherwise of the new entity is likely to be determined by how well the politicians representing the four constituent parts of the authority, Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire work together. The dynamic of these relationships will be critical in determining whether additional funding, as enjoyed by Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, is replicated.
Like other combined authorities the nature of the relationship between the region and central government will remain heavily transactional. Whitehall will hold the purse strings on any future funding beyond the limited amount already agreed. As such it is still a long way from the real fiscal devolution dreamed of by regional devolution advocates ever since the failed attempts of the Blair government in the late 1990s.
Assuming that parliament gives the go ahead and the consultation phase does not throw up any unforeseen obstacles then a new Mayor will be in place in 2024. The election for which is likely to be a closely fought contest between Labour and the Conservatives. The development sector will be watching closely as opportunities emerge in what is potentially an area of extremely high growth.