Step forward for Devolution discussions

Key Somerset councillors have backed a big step forward in Devolution discussions following positive early talks with Government.

Somerset County Council’s Cabinet today signed up to the principle of creating a new Combined Authority which would take responsibility for extra powers and budgets agreed in any devolution deal.

In Feb the County Council and 22 other authorities across Somerset and Devon submitted proposals for more powers to be devolved to the local level. With their Prospectus for Productivity, the Heart of the South West (HotSW) Devolution partnership believes it can deliver big benefits in sectors like skills, employment, housing and social care.

All the members of the partnership are this month seeking formal agreement to the principle of a Combined Authority. This comes after a meeting with the Local Government Secretary Greg Clark which he confirmed that an elected Mayor would not be essential to a devolution deal.

Councillor John Osman, Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “There is a long way to go, but today’s decision is an important step along the way. It opens the way for more detailed discussions with government which I firmly believe could result in a devolution deal that delivers big benefits for the people of Somerset and Devon.

“We firmly believe that we are best-placed to understand the area, address its challenges and build on its strengths. I want more decisions about Somerset to be taken closer to Somerset.”

If all partners agree in principle to the creation of a Combined Authority, discussions will continue with Government about what powers and budgets it is willing to devolve and when.

The details of how a Combined Authority would work are still to be discussed, but it would be made up of representatives from the partners. It would not take over any powers or funding from existing authorities and they would have a say in the constitution and decision-making powers of the new body.

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 Devolution partnership consists of Somerset and Devon County Councils, 13 district councils, Plymouth City and Torbay councils, Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks, three Clinical Commissioning Groups and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.

The full Prospectus for Productivity can be found on the County Council website

Productivity in the South West is currently at less than 80 per cent of the national average. The document says devolved powers and finance from Westminster would bring higher productivity, 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.