Remove all legal barriers to collaboration, say council chiefs


Council chiefs have said 'legislation should not preclude any form of collaboration’ between local authorities in response to the Government’s plans to give councils greater flexibility in establishing and managing combined authorities.

As a wave of combined authority proposals were announced this month that could see stronger transport controls devolved across England, the Local Government Association (LGA) said the government proposals did not go far enough.

 Ministers plan a range of reforms including allowing county councils to delegate transport powers for part of their area to combined authorities and allowing councils without direct borders to join together.

Separately the Government also plans to legislate to require combined authorities and economic prosperity boards to establish overview and scrutiny committees.

Despite a largely positive response from the sector, the LGA’s response, seen by Transport Network, ‘emphatically’ disagreed with the plans to impose legislation around setting up scrutiny arrangements.

Council chiefs also balked at Whitehall’s refusal to allow combined authorities to take on extra powers not related to transport or economic development such as waste management.

LGA officials said legislation should ‘not hold councils back’ in striving for value for money and called for combined authorities to be allowed expand their functional scope and be given extra borrowing powers for housing and growth-related activities.

The County Councils Network said allowing a county to delegate transport powers to a combined authority was ‘a pragmatic step’ and broadly supported the change.

A new wave of combined authority plans could see stronger transport controls devolved across England in coming months, as councils look to partner with nearby boroughs.

Talks are afoot that could lead to combined authorities emerging in Essex, north east London, Derbyshire and the south coast, joining commitments already made in the West Midlands and the North.

The moves came after the Greater Manchester Combined Authority achieved a ‘momentous’ package of powers over local transport budgets, franchised bus services and rail station policy.

England’s first tri-county alliance of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire has now called for similar levels of Government support to deliver its own combined authority alliance, which would allow the region to harness the economic gain of East-West rail and a potential new Oxford to Cambridge expressway road.

Surveyor has learned a group of London boroughs to the capital’s north east have been invited by Newham LBC to discuss the issue of establishing a combined authority at a meeting on 13 February.

Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, said the council supported calls for greater devolution and would be ‘working in partnership with other local boroughs across the political spectrum to shape this agenda’.

Southend BC’s cabinet has also agreed to explore working with fellow Essex council Thurrock. The borough is however reliant upon proposed reforms from Department for Communities and Local Government to allow non-neighbouring authorities to form combined authorities. Southend’s decision is thought to have been prompted by news Essex CC was withdrawing from the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership.

A full council meeting at Portsmouth has this month debated the possibility of combined authority arrangements, with Isle of Wight Council and Southampton thought to be most likely to enter such a pact.

Proposals for a partnership across Derbyshire have centred on creation of a single Local Transport Plan for the region, which a county council spokesman said would ‘improve the integration of land-use and transport planning and allow best value from developer contributions’.

Transport Network has also exclusively reported on plans for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire combined authorities to share a single infrastructure appraisal framework.

Coventry and Solihull have not yet decided on whether to join Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Walsall in plans for a West Midlands combined authority.

A spokesperson for Solihull said the council was ‘keen to explore’ detail but any proposals would need to provide ‘significant additional value’ for the region.

Additional reporting by Tom Bridge.

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