Councils have accused the government of stalling on its devolution agenda and jeopardising economic growth worth billions of pounds, along with the delivery of thousands of jobs and homes.
Lobby group the Local Government Association, which represents hundreds of councils, said it had now been 18 months since any new city deals – of the kind granting local freedoms to the likes of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands – had been signed.
The LGA said the situation amounted to “devolution deadlock” and also questioned why ministers had yet to publish the latest annual report setting out progress with the devolution agenda, as mandated by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act.
It said that on the second anniversary of a deadline for submissions of interest in striking new city deals, in which around 34 bids were made, there were still clusters of authorities that were keen to benefit from freedoms designed to boost local growth that the impasse was preventing them from progressing.
Conservative councillor Mark Hawthorne, who is chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board and leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said more authorities wanted to see their communities reap the benefits of having greater powers and funding to build more homes, secure essential infrastructure, boost residents’ skills.
“There are concerns that devolution discussions have stalled and opportunities are being missed,” he said.
“To reignite the devolution process, the government needs to engage in a debate about appropriate governance arrangements with local areas.
“This is fundamental to ensure that the momentum around devolving powers to local areas is not lost and the billions of pounds worth of economic growth, hundreds of thousands of jobs and homes on offer through non-metropolitan devolution deals is not lost with it.”
Devolution deals have so far been signed covering 10 city regions and other areas in England, with further agreements in Wales and Scotland. May this year saw the election of six new combined authority mayors, once touted as an essential component for the devolution of new powers.
The LGA said that the pressures being faced by health and social care services, as well as the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, made it all the more important that local resilience was strengthened by the devolution of powers to aid growth and maintain key services.
It added that Brexit should not simply mean a transfer of powers from Brussels to Westminster, Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff Bay, but must lead to new legislative freedoms and flexibilities for councils so that residents and businesses benefited.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said the government was “100% committed” to devolving powers to local areas where there was strong support for plans to deliver better services, greater value for money and clear accountability.
“Next year people in Sheffield City Region will elect a powerful new mayor, with around £1bn of new government investment and a range of new powers,” he said.
“We also announced in July that we will begin talks with the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street to agree a further devolution package for the area.”