Somerset and Devon councils have been reassured that their devolution proposals do not require an elected mayor.
At a recent summit meeting with council leaders, Local Government Secretary Greg Clark said Government would not impose an elected Mayor as part of any Heart of the South West (HotSW) Devolution Partnership deal.
New powers would instead be overseen by a Combined Authority consisting of representatives of Devon and Somerset county councils, Plymouth and Torbay councils, the 13 district councils in the two counties, Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks, three Clinical Commissioning Groups and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.
Leaders of the councils and partners have already backed the plan. Each authority will now be asked to formally sign-up to the principle of creating a Combined Authority which would allow the negotiations towards a deal to move forward.
Somerset County Council Leader John Osman said: “I’m delighted by the unanimous support among leaders of councils to take forward the proposal for a Combined Authority devolution deal.
“It is truly exciting to see how we can work together to deliver more for our residents in key areas like the economy, homes, health and social care.
“We will of course be following the national picture closely in the coming weeks and await clarification, but we do not anticipate the EU Referendum result having an impact on the progress of our proposals and all the partners are keen to move things forward.
“The next step will be for each council to formally approve the Combined Authority proposals. After that we will negotiate the finance, powers and responsibilities to be passed to us by central government.”
Councillors will hear that the Combined Authority would not take over any powers or funding from existing authorities and that they would have a say in the constitution and decision-making powers of the new body.
Full public consultation on any proposal to introduce a Combined Authority will take place as part of the negotiation process with the Government and is required before an Order can be made in Parliament to establish such an authority.
The HotSW Partnership has already submitted its ‘Prospectus for Productivity’ to the Government in a bid to win more powers to boost jobs and growth. The partnership says it wants a ‘devolution revolution’ to improve the lives of people in Devon and Somerset.
The prospectus was endorsed by every local authority in the two counties and they are now being asked to give the green light for more detailed negotiations with the Government.
The document says the proposed changes would result in higher productivity and better-paid jobs, improved road, rail and broadband links and more homes for the region’s growing population.
There would also be radical reforms to integrate health and social care to allow the ageing population to be better looked after, tailored support for growing businesses and the creation of a centre of excellence for skills development.
The devolution revolution would see more powers and finance devolved from Westminster to the region to close the productivity gap and allow local people to benefit from a thriving economy. Currently productivity in the South West is running at less than 80 per cent of the national average.