A devolution deal on a scale ‘dependent on the level of our ambition’ took a ‘very positive’ step closer after Somerset, Devon, Torbay and Plymouth Leaders met Jake Berry MP, the Government Minister with responsibility for devolution, in London yesterday.
They describe the meeting as ‘very positive’ in setting out the next steps for a Combined Authority, which would see increased powers move from Westminster to the Heart of the South West area.
The leaders pressed that local people are best placed to make decisions for local communities and pushed for clarity on the Government’s position on devolution in areas like the Heart of the South West.
Chair designate of the Shadow Joint Authority and Somerset County Council Leader, Councillor David Fothergill, said: “I am pleased by the Minister’s response and his recognition of the work we have done to develop a strong partnership. Jake Berry MP confirmed the scale of the deal is dependent on our level of ambition – and collectively we have plenty of that!
“Other regions with devolved powers have already seen benefits of up to £30million a year. This means the new Combined Authority will have the budget and autonomy to help create better jobs, productivity, skills and training and a stronger economy for our region.
“These discussions are an excellent step forward for our partnership which is strong, united and ambitious to do as much as possible for our economy and communities.”
If approved, the new Authority made up of 17 Local Authorities, two National Parks, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and three Clinical Commissioning Groups would take responsibility for extra powers and budgets, delivering huge benefits for all residents including higher productivity, better-paid jobs, improved road, rail and broadband links and more affordable homes for the region.
There could also be tailored support for growing businesses and the creation of a centre of excellence for skills development.
At the meeting the Minister confirmed his view that elected mayors aren’t necessarily appropriate for the Heart of the South West devolution plans.
All the authorities worked together to jointly submit a Productivity Prospectus to the Government outlining the region’s case in February 2016.
Cllr David Fothergill continued: “The timing of our draft Productivity Plan puts us in an ideal position to be able to clearly say what we want to achieve for our area, how we can work together to step up our activity and align our resources, and what more we need from Government to help us succeed. I look forward to beginning formal discussions with Government and progressing to a really strong deal for our area.”
The full Prospectus for Productivity can be found on the County Council website https://somersetnewsroom.com/devolution/
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Notes to Editors
- Leaders and Chief Executives from Somerset County Council, Devon County Council and Plymouth Council, senior politicians from Torbay and Gary Streeter MP were present at the meeting in London yesterday to discuss devolution for the Heart of the South West – Devon, Somerset, Torbay and Plymouth.
- Recognising the huge benefits devolution could bring, Somerset County Council led the way in urging other neighbouring Authorities to sign up to create a new Combined Authority back in 2015.
- 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 two counties currently have an annual economy worth over £34 billion – more than Britain’s second city, Birmingham.
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