OPINION: Do we need a Mayor for more powers?

North Devon Gazette

Recently, the government has published its Levelling Up White Paper. The news headlines focused on the Midlands and the North of England benefiting by far the most from the proposals. Â

However, there are over 300 pages with a lot of information in this White Paper, which we are currently studying to see its implications for North Devon. One important aspect says that central government is not imposing a top-down restructuring of local government but intends to agree a series of County deals. Â

In our case, this will involve Plymouth, Torbay and Team Devon (Devon County Council and the eight District Councils), where we will be one of the first areas to start negotiations over a devolution deal.  This doesn’t mean that the local authorities will be changed, as we will still have both Devon County Council and North Devon Council providing the local government services as they are at present. Â

Although any arrangements are still subject to discussions with government, the White Paper makes clear that the preferred option is for a directly-elected mayor to be appointed and that areas which do choose this option can expect to receive greater devolved powers. Â

Do you think an elected mayor for the whole geographical county is a good idea? Please do let me know your opinion. So far, the leaders of the Plymouth, Torbay, Devon County and the District Councils (including myself) have all stated that they are opposed to the idea but it does appear, at least from the White Paper, that fewer powers and funding will be given to areas which do not have that model.  Â

Some elected mayors, like Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, appear to me to have been quite effective in lobbying government for support for their areas. Currently, I feel that we often get overlooked, so should we be considering agreeing to having elections for a county-wide mayor in order to gain more local powers and funding? What do you think?Â

I am keen to use the opportunity of a county deal to press government for assistance with the provision of houses, which are affordable for our residents and help to address the chronic shortage of properties to rent at reasonable prices. Â

We also need to capitalise and build on green initiatives, such as our world-renowned UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which is advanced in key research into natural carbon capture and other initiatives intended to improve biodiversity and improve land management. Â

Schemes to deliver skills, high value jobs, attract investment, provide green growth, address climate change, improve connectivity, provide culture and leisure activities, boost the economy and provide employment for all, including our young people, are all needed.Â

The White Paper states that devolution deals will only be agreed with the county and unitary local authorities, although in Devon, all of the authorities, including District Councils, have agreed to progress the discussions collectively. Â

The implications for our parish councils are, however, unclear. The White Paper says that a neighbourhood governance review will look at the role and functions of parish councils in England, and a pilot of new models for community partnership will be established. Â

The White Paper contains twelve national missions. These are concerned with Living Standards, Research and Development, Transport Infrastructure, Digital Connectivity, Education, Skills, Health, Wellbeing, Pride in Place, Housing, Crime and Local Leadership.  Â

It is hoped that these missions will boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector. The aim is also to spread opportunities and improve public services where they are the weakest and to restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging, where this has been lost. Â

It is potentially good news that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be devolved to local leaders and distributed via an allocation methodology, rather than through a competitive bidding process. So much time has been taken up by officers preparing bids for funding for various projects with no certainty that they would receive any funds at the end of the process.  Let’s hope that North Devon Council is allocated a fair share, so that all our residents are able to benefit. Â