Cambridgeshire devolution may not demand new mayor

PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 August 2016 | UPDATED: 12:35 24 August 2016

BernardAllum

The £70,000 post was a contested issue.

Prime Minister Theresa May is said to be rethinking the compulsory mayor posts that were attached to devolution deals put forward by George Osborne.

Many dubbed the mayor post a layer of unnecessary government, whereas supporters were hopeful of a more streamlined and accountable authority.

Mayors are due to be elected in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands next May.

The public consultation for the Cambridgeshire devolution deal concluded on Tuesday, August 23.

The Prime Minister’s supposed intentions were reported in national newspapers.

Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert and deputy Kevin Price released a statement: “We want to be pioneers in genuine devolution from Whitehall to local Councils in Cambridgeshire and there’s plenty that Cambridge and wider residents can benefit from in the Government’s plans, including removing unnecessary controls by Government officials over local decisions.

“Homeless and overcrowded families in Cambridge also badly need the promised £70 million extra investment in new Cambridge council rental housing, that we negotiated so hard for and which Government to their credit agreed.

“But devolution would work even better without the requirement of an extra Mayor, so we hope that the Government will reconsider this and postpone their proposed 2017 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayoral elections. We ask Theresa May to let councils make the decisions through the planned Combined Authority and let us demonstrate that we can deliver successful devolution without an extra tier of local government.

“We know that colleagues in other councils, including in the parallel devolution to neighbouring Norfolk, have similar views and this change would remove a big barrier many people have with the original devolution proposals, including many who would then become strong devolution supporters.”

In the run up to the end of the consultation leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cllr Peter Topping, said: “This deal would provide us the money to build Affordable Homes we have planned more quickly. These are much needed for people on lower incomes who are struggling to buy or rent. We have sites identified and have been working closely with housing associations but the final piece of the jigsaw is the finance to get on with it.

“A mayor is really important to making sure we deliver the best results through devolution. As a former civil servant working with lots of Government departments I know that they do not always understand the demands and needs of a region or area.

“When it comes to accessing government money, the combined authority and the mayor working with local MPs can be a strong voice and deliver millions more investment into the area for the things, such as housing and better transport links, that we know we need.

“The Mayor will also be key in attracting private investment from our shores and overseas so business and our local economy can continue to flourish.

“I am also determined that we deploy existing officers and their skills from across the local authorities of Cambridgeshire to provide most of the necessary administration support for the Mayor.

“This is about creating a powerful voice for Cambridgeshire and its residents, not creating a new tier of government, and that is why I think we should back the deal.”

“Turning our back now could see us lose out on millions of pounds of investment as well as further deals which will see more money and powers handed down locally where the Mayor can be directly held to account.”

The Liberal Democrats started an online petition against the introduction of a mayor. The website said: “This is the opposite of devolution, taking powers away from local people and their representatives.

“An enforced Mayor would reduce the influence of local people on planning for their own areas which is bad for all of Cambridgeshire. And with housing and education budgets so stretched, now is not the time to introduce an expensive mayor’s office.”

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