Ashfield leader fears elected mayor plans would be another nail in the coffin for local councils

Nottinghamshire will only feel the full benefits of a potential devolution deal if the area creates an elected mayor, Government papers have revealed.

By Andrew Topping
Friday, 4th February 2022, 1:45 pm

Coun Ben Bradley MP (Con) Nottinghamshire County Council leader, admitted councils would be ‘a bit daft’ not to consider this option, but says the decision is not his alone to make.

But Coun Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), Ashfield District Council leader said he feared the plan would lead to the scrapping of district councils.

The Government has published its Levelling Up White Paper, setting out plans for devolution.

Coun Jason Zadrozny fears for the future of district councils like Ashfield if the Government's elected mayor plans for devolution go ahead

As part of the Government announcement, Nottinghamshire is among nine areas to negotiate what the Conservative-led Government is describing as new ‘county deals’.

The new project could give councils more ability to shape services like healthcare, public transport, education and skills, strategic planning and public safety.

However, the papers confirm the county will only be handed the most powers if a directly-elected, political mayor is the ‘accountable’ person to use them.

The mayoral position would need to be accompanied by a combined authority, which would only incorporate county and city councils when making decisions.

This would mean district councils, like Ashfield, would act as ‘non-constituent members’ and have no power.

Coun Zadrozny, who is also leader of the Independents group at County Hall, said: “The White Paper contains 12 pledges to address 12 failures in 12 years of a Conservative Government.

“It states its aim is to devolve power, but does the opposite.

"Make no mistake, this is the first step to abolishing the local councils we all hold so dear.”

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Supporters of the proposals say it will give greater spending power and more decision-making to local areas, while reducing Westminster’s control on some major regional projects.

However, those opposed say an elected mayor idea has already been rejected in Nottinghamshire before.

According to the White Paper, a maximum of 23 powers could be devolved from Whitehall as part of devolution, dropping to 11 without the mayoral post.

However, if local leaders opted to stay with the current system, which operates with the nine councils and a joint committee, just three new powers would be handed over, with ‘scope to negotiate’.

Coun Bradley said: “The county deal option is in there, we can tick that box because we’ve got it.

“This option would be good to be able to draw down money into a local pot for us to decide what to do with it.

“Clearly the document also says, if you want significant economic clout, any extra money, you need a combined authority and mayor.

“We’d be daft not to at least have a conversation about the rest, but that’s not a decision I can make.”

When asked whether he would consider running for the mayoral role if it became available, Mr Bradley said the job would be ‘really exciting for whoever takes it on’.

Coun Kate Foale, Labour group leader at County Hall, said: “For years, councils have been strung along by this Conservative Government, promising local voices would be heard on devolution.

“Consistently, representatives from all political views across Nottinghamshire have rejected a mayoral system imposed by Westminster, but that is exactly the type of centralised, top-down imposition we’ve been offered.”