Nottinghamshire County Council leader sparks call for a combined authority in East Midlands

The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council has sparked calls for a combined authority governing control over the entire East Midlands – but says the plans would require unanimous approval from all 28 authorities in the region.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 7:26 pm
Nottinghamshire County Council leader Ben Bradley.

Councillor Ben Bradley also Conservative MP for Mansfield, described the East Midlands as the “hole in the middle of a doughnut”, comparing it to neighbouring areas like Sheffield and the West Midlands.

In those regions, combined authorities have received devolved powers from the Government, enabling some major decision-making to be done locally.

And combined authorities like Greater Manchester have been able to roll out schemes controlling public transport costs, social care integration and region-wide transport projects.

Achieving this, Mr Bradley says, would bring decisions closer to the region on issues like transport, development and Covid recovery.

Speaking at a county council policy committee meeting on Thursday July 15, he said: “In terms of devolution it’s very much an active conversation.

“I think every leader of every district has expressed a sincere openness of a discussion, and I would stress this is not a discussion about local government reorganisation or not certainly in the form it took before.

“What this is, is a recognition that as a region, we are the hole in the middle of the doughnut where everyone around us is getting additional powers and funding from Government – and has a delivery mechanism to use that to impact on communities.

“[We could] use that to tackle inequalities, spatial planning, transport planning, economic development and all of the things that will contribute to our recovery, and we don’t have that.”

Government data shows the East Midlands receives among the lowest investment in the UK from Whitehall.

It is, however, the only UK region without some form of devolved power.

Per person, the region receives around £8,879 from central Government.

This is £522 lower than the UK average and below neighbouring West Midlands at £9,570.

However, doubts have been cast on whether a combined East Midlands authority could achieve more investment for the region.

Councillor Jason Zadrozny is leader of Ashfield District Council.

He said: “It is true that we have to look at different approaches in the East Midlands to get a fairer deal from Government.

“I am not certain that creating another level of bureaucracy will improve this.

“Experience of other massive combined authorities in the country shows that it doesn’t deliver the infrastructure projects envisaged.

“Just ask Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, where Government spending has gone down.

“Setting up a combined authority in the East Midlands will lead to higher council tax.

“They are funded by extra levies paid by taxpayers. Is this a price worth paying for another level of bureaucracy?”

Setting up a combined authority would require a referendum in the region and the agreement of all 28 local councils.

The region could then choose to set up an elected mayor, similar to the post held by Labour’s Andy Burnham in Manchester.

The call comes ahead of a Government ‘levelling up’ white paper due in the autumn, which will explore further, sub-local devolved powers.

Supporters also believe localised powers in the region could help drive forward projects such as the HS2 High Speed rail plan and the East Midlands Freeport, planned at the region’s airport.