Council poised to reject metro mayor devolution deal?

The agreement was announced in Parliament today.

The agreement was announced in Parliament today. - Credit: Archant

North Somerset Council appears poised to reject a metro mayor taking control of the district in a £1billion deal following an informal debate this week.

Council leader Nigel Ashton has signed a draft devolution deal which could create a combined authority, led by a mayor, across North Somerset, Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

The councils will first have to agree to the deal, and North Somerset’s councillors met on Tuesday in a private meeting to be briefed on the plans.

The Mercury understands the Government wants to start putting the legal framework for the deal in place by July 4.

It means the four councils must vote after the European Union referendum on June 23, but before July 4.

Councillors told the Mercury after the meeting that this leaves little time for a public consultation in advance of the councils making a final decision, and the legislation may not even allow for one to take place.

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The Mercury understands the council will aim to consult further, and clarify some outstanding questions, though it may not be possible to do so publicly.

The council’s Liberal Democrat leader Mike Bell said: “On the basis of what the Conservative councillors said, and it will be them who decide as they have the majority, I would be amazed if they don’t say ‘no thanks’ to the deal.”

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But Cllr Bell warned there were risks with turning down the deal.

He said: “The biggest risk is what the other three do.

“If two or three other councils say yes, they will go ahead with the deal and leave North Somerset behind.”

The deal involves the new combined authority taking control over adult education, transport and housing, and receiving £30million a year over 30 years from the Government.

Conservative councillor Richard Nightingale said: “It is certainly one of the largest changes North Somerset has ever seen and in my experience nothing positive ever came from introducing further layers of bureaucracy and red tape.

“I personally don’t want to see decisions about local issues being made outside the area.”

Cllr Richard Tucker, Labour leader in North Somerset, has signed a letter to the Government calling for an informal referendum asking if people want a combined authority run by a metro mayor.

In a joint statement with other Labour leaders, Cllr Tucker said the vote should be held on June 23, the same day as the European Union referendum, to reduce the cost and improve the turnout.

They said: “The Government seems intent on obstructing people from having a direct say on the creation of a combined authority with a metro mayor. Previous mayoral schemes have required approval through a ballot, but the new rules specifically exclude this provision.”

The Mercury understands a referendum of this sort may not be possible.

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