The Government’s Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill was unveiled at the Queen’s Speech, allowing cities with elected metro mayors to take control of major powers including transport and planning controls.
Also on the legislative programme for this parliament is an accompanying Buses Bill, which will provide ‘the option for combined authority areas with directly elected mayors to be responsible for the running of their local bus services’.
The Cities Devolution Bill will also deliver the deal promised to the Manchester city region - a blueprint for wider devolution - which included £1bn for areas such as transport and skills, control of bus services and a shared £6bn health and social care pot.
Briefing documents also suggest the generic legisation could be used as a platform for wider devolution outside metropolitan areas, stating the Bill provides 'the legislative framework necessary to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and other future deals – both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places'.
The legislation is also designed to help realise the Government's Northern Powerhouse plan of creating a super-connected region supported by strong metropolitan areas that could finally help close the north south divide.
David Sparks, chair of the Local Government Association, said: ‘The Cities Devolution Bill is great news for our larger cities but we want to make sure the benefits of devolution reach all corners of England. We believe the push to decentralise power should be extended to these non-urban areas and are ready to work with the Government to meet this aspiration.’
Speaking on behalf of the West Midlands Authorities exploring options for a combined authority, the leader of Sandwell Council, Cllr Darren Cooper, said:
‘This is good news for the region. It comes just a week after Coventry and Solihull announced their intention to join Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton Councils in a proposed combined authority for the West Midlands that would be the largest and most economically powerful authority outside of London.’
He went on to reveal that a prospectus would be published in the summer providing the basis for negotiations with the Government for the region’s devolution deal.
Trailing the programme earlier this month in a keynote address in Manchester, Mr Osborne said: 'We will hand power from the centre to cities to give you greater control over your local transport, housing, skills and healthcare. And we’ll give the levers you need to grow your local economy and make sure local people keep the rewards.
‘The old model of trying to run everything in our country from the centre is broken. It’s right people have a single point of accountability: someone they elect, who takes the decision and carries the can. So with these new powers for cities must come new city-wide elected mayors who work with local councils. I will not impose this model on anyone but nor will I settle for less.’
Mr Osborne answered critics who had complained that devolution schemes so far had been too city-focused by stating: 'We’ll empower the towns and great counties of the north too, by extending a form of the City Deals programme we ran in the last parliament to cover counties and towns too.'
He went on to add that he wanted to extend these new opportunities across England, in the Midlands, East Anglia and the South West too.
The Government also confirmed it would pursue the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, which will give ministers the legal powers to construct and operate phase 1 of the High Speed 2 railway between London and the West Midlands.
It also confirmed Scotland and Wales Bills would be brought forward. The Scottish Parliament would be handed responsibility for Air Passenger Duty and the Aggregates Levy, while the Welsh Assembly would receive powers over ports, taxi regulation, the registration of bus services, speed limits, and sewerage services.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: 'These powers must extend further, including to rural areas, which have born the brunt of bus budget cuts. London-style devolved transport powers could bring the same kinds of service improvements from which that city has benefited to long-neglected cities in the North of England and elsewhere.
'However, it is important that transport devolution is not just confined to the big cities but spreads across the country bringing together a better, integrated transport network, crucially in rural areas.'