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New super East Midlands council could be worth millions.

A new “super council” for the East Midlands could win an extra £1 billion in Government funding for better buses, cheaper houses and more job creation.

Fears that it would put up council tax by £100 a year have consistently been played down.

At the moment, the proposed new East Midlands Combined Authority – with its own directly-elected mayor – would include Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. All of the district and borough councils would remain.

Derbyshire is trying to encourage Leicestershire to join the proposed super council.

The “door is being left ajar” for Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council to join, says Derbyshire leader Cllr Barry Lewis.

Derbyshire council appears to actively resent the idea of an East Midlands authority without Leicester and Leicestershire, because the new authority would qualify for less funding.

Central Government is said to be eager for Leicester and Leicestershire to join the proposed super council but has also put its full support behind the current Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire plan.

The new authority aims to draw more powers from central Government to make decisions over transport, skills, housing and planning, and to gain millions of pounds in direct funding and ultimate control over how it will be spent.

That new authority plan is progressing, though has been hampered a little due to the firing of Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, along with resignations of ministers within the department.

If all goes to plan, the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands, a formal offer from Government will be given this autumn, public consultation will take place in the winter, legislation for the new authority will be drawn up in May next year and mayoral elections will take place in May 2024.

A private briefing this week given to Derbyshire councillors, led by Cllr Lewis, a recording of which was seen by the LDRS, saw the Conservative county council leader stress, when asked if the authority had a “contingency plan” in case the public oppose the move: “There will be a public consultation, not a referendum, let’s be clear on that, and a consultation and a referendum are two very different things.”

The briefing was also told that the expectation was for the proposed new authority to receive around £1 billion in funding from central government over the next few decades, and to see national officials aim to significantly address “decades of underfunding” in the East Midlands.

Cllr Lewis said the proposed authority would have a staff base similar to the West Midlands Combined Authority – as opposed to its counterpart in Greater Manchester – with services largely provided and managed by existing local authorities.

Cllr Lewis said the proposed East Midlands authority would, at the moment, have a cabinet and full council system, with representatives on the top table from each upper tier council – Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire – known as the D2N2 area.

These representatives would be joined by a Derbyshire district councillor and Nottinghamshire district councillor – each speaking on behalf of their respective county’s district authorities.

The wider council would feature representatives from universities, chambers of commerce and the Local Enterprise Partnership, in a bid to give businesses a voice in the authority, Cllr Lewis said.

He was also asked if the “door had been left open” for Leicester and Leicestershire to join the proposed new authority at a later date.

Cllr Lewis responded: “Leicestershire were proposing a county and city sidecar type deal as part of their proposals and it very much focused around the Level 2 powers (Government offerer councils a range of devolution powers in three tiers, tier three being highest) and it has not flown because it is not ambitious enough.

“Government were really keen for them to be part of an East Midlands Combined County Authority deal so that it was D2N2L2, but I’m afraid Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester Mayor) in the city doesn’t want to play ball in that space and I think it has just proved too difficult on other fronts to make that work.

“At the moment, we have had some clarity from a letter from Neil O’Brien (a Leicestershire MP and former Levelling Up Minister) around keeping the door open, as it were, to Leicestershire and Leicester city to be potentially able to join in the future, and we are keen that that door at least remains ajar, even as we are developing our deal.

“I think Government would be keen for that to happen, ultimately, because it makes a lot of sense: three cities, three counties, which are clearly defined as the wider East Midlands and a sensible broad economic geography with a focus on the cities and the airport.”

A Leicestershire County Council spokesperson said: “The county council does not support joining on its own a combined authority proposed to cover the D2N2 area.

“The city of Leicester is geographically at the centre of the county and the strategic interdependencies of transport and the inter-relations of many public services would need to be recognised in any form of combined authority. 

“It would not be sensible to separate them if one council was in a combined authority and not the other.

“If this is a conclusion recognised by the Government, it is up to them to do something about it through legislation if they or other interested parties want a combined authority covering the three cities and the three counties.

“In Leicestershire County Council’s view, it would be wrong to describe a new body covering the D2N2 area only as an ‘East Midlands combined authority’ since it would not be.

“It would also be wrong if a decision was made to provide more funding and investment opportunities to the D2N2 area when they are not being made available to Leicestershire residents and businesses.”

A spokesperson for Leicester City Council said: “Leicester already has an elected mayor, and has done for more than 11 years. 

“There is much scepticism about the costs of having yet another tier, elected on top of the districts and the county council – who already work very well with each other, and with us in the city.”

The private briefing was told that Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire had bid for the widest possible powers on offer.

A leaked copy of the bid has been seen by the LDRS and it includes the ability for the potential new East Midlands Mayor to bring in an additional level of council tax – a mayoral precept.

In Nottinghamshire, the Independent Alliance group fears that this could see taxpayers paying out an extra £100 a year, using the precept brought in by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham as a comparison.

The alliance called for Nottinghamshire County Council to oppose the introduction of a mayoral precept if an East Midlands Mayor is brought in, which the authority committed to.

In April, Cllr Lewis dismissed claims that council tax will rise if the region gets an elected mayor as “pure speculation”, saying this is purely part of the negotiation process to secure the maximum powers possible.

In this week’s private briefing, he said: “We have had decades  of under-investment here in the East Midlands. We will be very clear in our ask that the Government needs to consider making up for that deficit that we have suffered over a relatively long period of time.

“A deal has to be right if we are going to have to accept an elected mayor as part of that equation.

“I’m no fan of elected mayors, as many people will know.
“If we want the big prizes, if we want the big money, if we want to start sort of pulling all the key levers that regions like Manchester and Birmingham have been able to pull over the last number of years, you can see all that investment that they’ve seen flowing into those regions and the only way to move forward is to move on.

“As much as I don’t like the concept of a mayor, I do think it is important that we get these powers.

“We can do so much more in terms of delivering infrastructure investment and transport investment and skills investment right across our region.”

Chris Henning, the county council’s executive director of place, said the proposed D2N2 authority would be the third largest super council in England.

He said: They (central government) want to do a deal with us. We are seen as a significant prize in terms of the Levelling Up white paper.

“The Government were very clear that if we come together as the four upper tier councils then we have the potential to have devolved to us what we call the Level 3 powers.”

He said devolved powers look to focus on transport, skills, housing and planning, “net zero” aims, but said this could also include issues such as domestic violence and support for young people.

Mr Henning said the Greater Manchester authority received a deal for £1 billion in funding from the Government over 30 years and the West Midlands was given a £1.4 billion deal. He said: “We would look to be at least approaching that Manchester sum.”

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