What does devolution deal vote mean to North Somerset’s future?
PUBLISHED: 10:25 08 June 2016 | UPDATED: 12:13 08 June 2016
Last night (Tuesday) saw North Somerset Council reject the Government’s devolution deal, instead hoping more powers could be handed to the West of England without the need for a metro mayor – but what will that mean for North Somerset’s future?
North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton proposed rejecting the devolution deal:
For (39): Elfan Ap Rees, Nigel Ashton, Felicity Baker, Jan Barber, Karen Barclay, Chris Blades, Ericka Blades, Mary Blatchford, Peter Bryant, Peter Burden, Charles Cave, James Clayton, Robert Cleland, Sarah Codling, Andy Cole, Peter Crew, Judith Hadley, Colin Hall, Ann Harley, David Hitchins, Jill Iles, Ruth Jacobs, Reyna Knight, John Ley-Morgan, Richard Nightingale, Jerry O’Brien, David Oyns, Ian Parker, David Pasley, Dawn Payne, Marcia Pepperall, Lisa Pilgrim, Terry Porter, Kate Stowey, James Tonkin, Liz Wells, Roz Willis, Nick Wilton, Deborah Yamanaka.
Against (6): Mark Canniford, John Crockford-Hawley, Donald Davies, Derek Mead, David Shopland, Richard Tucker.
What happened last night?
The Government wanted North Somerset Council Bath and North East Somerset Council, Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council to work more closely together and so a draft agreement was drawn up, offering the West of England £30million a year for 30 years plus powers over transport, adult education, housing and investment.
But the most contentious element was that the Government insisted on a metro mayor, which North Somerset Council’s leader Nigel Ashton has opposed since the beginning. He first expressed concerns back in 2014 and has said all along he does not believe North Somerset would benefit from one.
Instead, he asked last night, why the councils cannot continue to work closely together as they already do and receive extra opportunities from the Government.
Cllr Ashton added: “If this deal went through, there is no guarantee that North Somerset would get any reasonable amount (of money).
“This is not a good deal for North Somerset residents. It’s not a good deal for local democracy.”
So the deal was bound to leave North Somerset short-changed?
That depends on who you ask.
While Cllr Ashton’s call to reject the deal in the hope of opening up fresh dialogue with the Government was overwhelmingly supported by fellow councillors last night, some business experts from the region believed the Government’s proposition was a good one.
Nick Horne, chief executive of Knightstone Housing, said the deal was ‘not perfect’, but had more positives than negatives.
He said: “It is my view the opportunity for greater investment and influence outweighs the downsides from the metro mayor and additional administration.”
Robert Sinclair, chief executive of Bristol Airport, also saw merits in the deal and argued it would be better if more regional decisions were made locally than by the Government.
He felt the money could allow all four areas to have a much better transport system.
So what happens next?
North Somerset Council’s rejection of the deal on the table does not kill the Government’s £1billion plan for the West of England.
If the other three authorities – Bristol City, Bath and North East (BANES) and South Gloucestershire councils – vote to support it later this month, then the trio would form an alliance and have a metro mayor and the financial incentives on offer. Last night some North Somerset councillors expressed fears that if this happened then it could leave North Somerset as a ‘very small minnow’ when it comes to regional governance.
While impossible to predict the future, BANES last month expressed delight at the £1billion offer but rejected the idea of a metro mayor. If it continues with that stance and votes the same as North Somerset did last night, then the current devolution deal is dead and it is back to square one as at least three authorities need to support it for it to go ahead.
Regardless, Cllr Ashton and the council’s chief executive will however seek support from the other three authorities and go back to the Government and asking for a deal which does not include an ‘unnecessary and unwanted’ metro mayor.