Councillors in Bath and North East Somerset have called upon the government to drop the requirement to have an elected regional mayor as part of a £1 billion devolution package for the West of England area.
Councillors debated the devolution proposals at a Full Council meeting last Thursday, 12th May.
During the debate, Conservative councillors tabled a motion welcoming the additional funding and powers that would come with the devolution package, but called upon the government to drop the requirement to have an elected mayor overseeing the devolved arrangements.
Instead, the Conservative proposal called for a continuation of the existing arrangements, whereby Chairman is chosen from among the representatives of the four councils in the West of England area.
The Conservative motion was passed with near unanimous support, meaning the Council will now go back to Government to seek further discussions over governance arrangements for the devolution proposals.
Chairman of the B&NES Conservative Group Councillor Paul Myers, who put forward the proposal at the Council meeting, said:
“The principle of handing greater decision-making powers down from Westminster to the local area is something which I think is broadly welcomed across the Council. Alongside the £1 billion worth of investment on offer from government, this could allow our area to invest in long-overdue improvements to local infrastructure such as roads, rail, broadband and buses.
“However, concerns still remain over some of the governance arrangements, particularly the idea of having an elected mayor for the West of England.
“Our motion therefore calls on the government to drop the requirement to have an elected mayor from the devolution agreement, and asks that the Council continue discussions on this basis in the coming weeks.”
Leader of B&NES Council Cllr Tim Warren (Cons) commented:
“The funding package we have negotiated with government represents the best financial deal of any devolution agreement in the country, and would also secure greater powers for the West of England over issues such as public transport and skills training.
“To date, the Government has made it clear that it sees the creation of an elected mayor as an integral part of this deal, working alongside the councils to oversee the devolved arrangements. However, we have been clear from the start that this is not our preferred model of governance, and I am happy to go back to government and hold further discussions, highlighting the strength of feeling there is amongst local councillors about the mayoral aspect of the deal.”
The outcome of these discussions with government will be reported back to councillors by the time a final decision has to be taken over whether or not to accept the devolution package in late June. If the Council decides to go ahead with the devolution deal, a public consultation will take place prior to any new arrangements being signed-off by the Secretary of State.