Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) Order 2016 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 18 July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 8:45, 18 July 2016

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to what has been a wide-ranging debate. I shall try to deal with the various issues raised, I hope for the most part in the order in which they were raised. I turn first to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and I thank him very much for his kind comments. I well remember seeing him down in Wales at the time of the Beecham report, as it became known, and I am happy to update him on the progress—or perhaps lack of it in some areas—on local government reform there.

Let me try to deal with the points he raised. First, there is obviously a different approach to the issue of local mayors. We are of the view that there is a need for strong local leadership to carry this forward—somebody who will be accountable as a leader. It is the sort of thing that the Labour Party used to believe in, but it may be that it now has some issues about that. This should not take anybody by surprise because it is something that we have signalled clearly. Perhaps I may say that the Henry Ford analogy is somewhat unfair because local authorities have the option not to go down this route. Gateshead, for example, has chosen not to do so. So there is an option not to pursue the mayoral route but to have the quite separate arrangements that Gateshead has opted for.

I should also say that this will be somewhat different from mayoral elections that have taken place previously, which were not for combined authorities. This is a combined authority where the elected mayor will be responsible for the combined authority responsibilities but not for the constituent parts of the combined authority. As I indicated when introducing the Motion, while I know that polls are notoriously dangerous, a ComRes poll did show support in all the areas where we have proceeded so far for mayors taking over responsibility over all other types of organisation.

The issue of Bassetlaw and Chesterfield was raised. As I understand it, while it is true that there is an issue in relation to Chesterfield and Derbyshire, I think, although I may be proved wrong, that the discussions between Bassetlaw and Nottinghamshire are fruitful and moving forward. I will write to noble Lords about the progress of Bassetlaw and Chesterfield because I am not entirely sure where we are on that. Noble Lords will appreciate that I picked up the brief only yesterday afternoon, so I would be the first to admit that there are gaps in my knowledge.

If the Secretary of State is not satisfied that the statutory test has been met that the change is likely to improve the exercise of statutory functions in an area, he will be able to turn it down. That should give noble Lords some comfort on that point.

Perhaps I may deal with the point raised by several noble Lords about the Public Accounts Committee report published just over a week ago and the recommendations made in it. On the November 2016 deadline that was suggested in relation to overview and scrutiny committee obligations, we intend very much to honour that deadline and indeed to be ahead of it. I should like to offer that assurance. We will obviously—indeed we are statutorily obliged to do this following the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016—ensure that there is an independent and appropriate chair of both an overview and scrutiny committee and an audit committee. But I appreciate the point that where it may be a single party in relation to a devolution arrangement, we need to flesh that out and look at it in more detail. I undertake to have a closer look at that.

The appointment process will be open, transparent and based on open advertisement. I am also happy to be able to confirm that it will follow the Nolan principles. As I say, we will be bringing forward statutory guidance and fleshing out some of the rules as suggested.

Perhaps I may say in relation to a point made by several noble Lords—and certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott—about Humberside and other areas that it is open to all authorities to come forward with proposals and the Government will take a close look at them. He is absolutely right to say that we are already looking at Greater Lincolnshire, which is Lincolnshire plus north-east Lincolnshire as a possible devolution deal, and others are being taken forward as well. We are looking at proposals in East Anglia that are still at a very nascent stage. So we are certainly open to looking at that; I can give that undertaking.

In relation to points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about whether a district can be a full party to more than one devolution deal, a district or county council can be a full party to just one deal, but a county council could be a party to two or more deals because different parts of its area could be in different devolution deals. So a district or county council could not be part of more than one deal. That seems to be the logical position.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked about Sheffield and a mayoral power of veto. I understand that the only veto that exists is with the Government. I do not think that the mayor would have a veto, but I shall write to the noble Lord if I am wrong about that.