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What does the Cities and Local Government Devolution bill mean in practice?
Trowers Public Insight

What does the Cities and Local Government Devolution bill mean in practice?

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill (currently going through the committee stage in the House of Lords) follows up on the Government's election manifesto promise to devolve wider powers to combined authorities which choose to have elected mayors.

Through amendments to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (the Act establishing combined authorities) the Bill delivers enabling legislation for the Secretary of State by order to put in place devolution deals with combined authorities in England and Wales.

Its initial purpose is to set out the framework within which the Greater Manchester Deal will be confirmed and although it remains to be seen how that framework will be utilised elsewhere it does on paper offer the flexibility to allow bespoke deals to be agreed with each combined authority.

Indeed during the House of Lords debate Baroness Williams commented that the Government is seeking devolution proposals from all parts of England and Wales, including coastal and rural areas.

Under the proposed legislation the Secretary of State will have the power by order to provide for there to be an elected mayor of a combined authority.  The order may follow a proposal from an existing combined authority or from the county and district councils which make up (or are to make up) a combined authority.  Alternatively it can be made by the Secretary of State with the consent of those authorities.  If one constituent council objects the order can still be made with the Secretary of State removing the dissenting council from the combined authority. 

Where a combined authority is seeking the devolution of major powers the requirement for an elected mayor, a single point of accountability, will be a prerequisite.  However Baroness Williams confirmed to the House of Lords that it may not be an absolute requirement for other devolution proposals.

The Secretary of State will be able to make orders providing for the functions of a combined authority to be exercisable by the elected mayor and may also provide for the mayor to take over the functions of the local police and crime commissioner.

The local authority functions which the Secretary of State can elect to confer on a combined authority will no longer be limited to economic development, regeneration and transport, and functions of other public bodies (government departments etc) in that area may also be transferred, to be undertaken either instead of or concurrently with the public authority.  The transfer of functions may follow a proposal by the combined authority or its constituent authorities or be made by the Secretary of State with their consent, in each case considering whether the proposed changes would improve the exercise of the statutory functions in question.

In terms of financial matters, the Secretary of State will be able to make orders regarding the issue of precepts, the setting of budgets and the combined authority's ability to borrow money, as well as making regulations to provide that a combined authority can levy for transport and any specified functions, with the consent of its constituent councils.

Provision is also made for the Secretary of State to confer the general power of competence on a combined authority and for the establishment of overview and scrutiny committees.  Finally the Bill also gives the Secretary of State the flexibility to make regulations, with the consent of the affected local authorities, making provision about governance arrangements, constitution and structural and boundary arrangements, to enable devolution deals to be structured in the most appropriate way.

It will be interesting to see how the Bill fares as it makes its way through Parliament and to see what future devolution will follow, whether it will follow the Greater Manchester deal or whether we will indeed see a range of devolution proposals put into practice across England and Wales.

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