Bath & North East Somerset Council has chosen to move forward with the £1 billion West of England devolution deal by putting the proposed scheme out to public consultation, following special meetings of the full Council and Cabinet.
The deal, which is the largest in the country, is worth over £1,000 per head of population.
On 29 June, 2016, members of the Council considered all of the aspects of the deal before agreeing that, on balance, the proposal presented the best available deal for the people of Bath and North East Somerset, and agreed to put forward the deal’s governance scheme for wider public consultation. After the consultation, the results then go back to back to the Secretary of State – who is obliged by law to take account of the outcome. And finally, it then comes back to the Council’s Cabinet who will have the final decision on whether to consent to the parliamentary order putting the devolution deal in place.
The decision by the Council and Cabinet means that the public will have the opportunity to have their say on the scheme, including the Government’s proposal for a West of England Combined Authority Mayor to oversee the devolved arrangements. The principle behind the devolution deal is to hand more funding and powers from Westminster to the West of England – with greater local control over how that money is spent, and the ability to deliver key infrastructure projects quicker. It also provides greater opportunities to improve transport, deliver more affordable housing and encourage new investment, economic growth and jobs.
At the Council meeting, the councillors heard from public speakers in support of the devolution deal, including representatives of the Bath Business Improvement District, Bath Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Bath Residents’ Associations and the South West Transport Network.
Speaking following the meeting, Councillor Tim Warren (Conservative, Mendip), Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “This has been a very complex decision for all concerned. After many months of negotiations with Government, we have secured the best possible deal for our area –one that far outweighs any other devolution deal done elsewhere in the country, both in terms of the funding secured and safeguards in place to protect the absolute autonomy of Bath & North East Somerset Council.
“It’s important to make clear that this deal does not mean the merger of any Councils – it does not impact upon any of our Council assets or services. It is purely about handing funding and powers down from Government, not up from the Council.
“Not only does this deal unlock a billion pounds of funding for our area, it also brings decision-making powers, on issues that were previously held in Westminster, closer to local communities and ensures that we continue to be at the top table when there are new opportunities to receive funding and investment from central Government.
I am also pleased that, as part of the deal we have also secured an additional commitment from the Government to consider further investment in our enterprise zones and a commitment to study the options to link the A36 and A46”.
“Councillors considered all aspects of this deal very carefully and decided that, on balance, it is the right thing to put the scheme to residents for consultation. It’s now over to the public have their say through the consultation.”
The Council understands that both Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council have also agreed to put forward the scheme for public consultation, which will be undertaken jointly by the three authorities.
The public consultation will start on Monday 4 July, in accordance with the timetable set by the Government. People will be given the opportunity to express their views on the proposed scheme via the internet and questionnaires in local libraries and other contact points. Further details of the consultation process will be issued in due course.
Key benefits of the devolution deal:
The deal would secure £900 million of investment over 30 years, with the potential to leverage in additional funds, such as transport funding linked to the emerging Joint Transport Plan. It is therefore expected to be worth over £1 billion initially with the potential for additional financial benefits in future.
At £1,004 per person, the West of England deal represents by far the biggest devolution deal per head of population of any negotiated in the country.
A West of England Combined Authority would be able to speed up the delivery of new infrastructure, including transport and housing, with increased powers to facilitate house building to meet local needs and priorities.
Further powers over transport, including the ability to franchise bus services and responsibility for a Key Routes Network of roads would ensure that investment takes place where it is most needed and transport services would most closely reflect the wishes of local people. It would also have the power to implement Clean Air Zones to help achieve air quality standards – which is important to improving public health – something which has been called for by the public.
Increased opportunities for business growth, investment and job creation including: support for developing the West of England Growth Hub; increased support for the Bristol & Bath Science Park and the Junction 21 Food Enterprise Zone.
Increased powers for spending on adult education, skills and employment to ensure local people are better equipped to secure better career opportunities – with new jobs created by new investment locally. This is a key part of our commitment to building a successful and sustainable economy.
Safeguards secured within the devolution deal:
The West of England would receive funding and powers from central government – it would not take powers from existing local authorities, without the agreement of those authorities.
The autonomy of each council would be maintained and protected with no impact upon any powers, responsibilities or assets currently held by the member authorities, unless those authorities agree to changes.
Each council would need to consent to any infrastructure schemes to be undertaken within their area.
Strategic planning documents – such as Joint Spatial Plan – would require the unanimous approval, meaning each Council would effectively have a veto over such plans.
The West of England’s Budget, including the Mayor’s budget, would be subject to a majority vote of all Combined Authority members). The Budget can be rejected if two or more councils vote against it.
If this were to occur, the constituent councils would then propose alternative arrangements to be approved by two-thirds of the constituent councils. The mayor would not be entitled to a vote on the alternative arrangements.
The West of England Combined Authority would be chaired by a West of England Mayor who the public would vote for in May 2017. They would not replace the Leaders of Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils or Bristol’s directly elected Mayor.
The West of England Mayor may not take any decision which would impose a liability on any of the constituent councils without their individual approval.
A West of England Combined Authority, including a West of England Mayor, would be scrutinised and held to account by a West of England Overview and Scrutiny and Audit committee(s).
The Bath Guildhall