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Talks about cross-counties devolution deal

Nottinghamshire County Council's headquarters in West Bridgford.
Nottinghamshire County Council's headquarters in West Bridgford.

Talks have been held on creating a new combined authority within Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire.

Leaders of the four county councils – which are all Conservative-controlled have met to discuss the plans, with more details expected in the summer.

Other parts of the country, including the West Midlands and Manchester, already have a combined authority, and received additional funding in last autumn’s budget.

Combined authorities effectively act as a “super council”, working across county borders.

It is not clear whether the three major cities in the area – Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, are involved in the talks.

It is also unclear whether the new authority could co-exist with the current two-tiered system of county and district councils.

Councillor Nick Rushton, Leicestershire County Council leader, told the Local Government Chronicle: “We are in the Midlands Engine, we are in Midlands Connect, we need to have something big in the east to counteract Andy Street and Birmingham in the west – we haven’t got that massive body of power in the east.

“We need something big and strategic that is recognised by the government and could attract substantial devolution. We have all promised officer time to look at something between now and the end of the summer.”

He also said a combined authority could help ease significant financial pressures being faced by councils.

The new regional power would likely have an elected mayor, as is the case in the West Midlands and Manchester.

Creating the new regional authority could be complicated by the fact all four county councils are Conservative led, while the three cities are currently Labour run councils.

Any deal would likely require co-operation from counties and cities.

Coun Jon Collins, Nottingham City Council leader, said: “We are aware tiers of authorities in the East Midlands have been looking at configurations for a combined authority for some time now, but there is nothing to suggest achieving this is anywhere near close.

“In any case, that is a separate issue to the county unitary aspirations that have been known for some time.

“Having been through local government reorganisation when Nottingham became a unitary authority in the late 1990s, the city has no desire to indulge in rearranging the local government deckchairs locally.

“However, if the county council seeks to become a unitary authority, we would argue strongly it couldn’t possibly be on current boundaries.

“New city/county boundaries would need to reflect the real boundaries of the city and include much of the conurbation which, due to an administrative failure, currently form part of the county.”

It is not the first attempt at fostering greater political co-operation in the East Midlands.

In 2015, Nottingham, Derby and seven districts in the two counties appeared on the brink of a devolution deal, but the move stalled over the requirement to adopt an elected mayor.

Then, in November, Coun Kay Cutts, Nottinghamshire County Council leader, hit out at what she called a “secret” and “underhand” plan by Derby and Nottingham city councils to enhance co-operation between the two.

No-one at Nottinghamshire County Council was available to comment on the current talks, which are understood to be continuing.