Clause 28 - Procedure for direct conferral of general functions on mayor

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 5th July 2022.

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Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:45 am, 5th July 2022

I beg to move amendment 36, in clause 28, page 23, line 40, at end insert—

“(2A) Where the Secretary of State makes regulations to which this section applies they must notify all other mayoral and non-mayoral CCAs of this.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to notify all CCAs if they make regulations directly conferring general functions on a Mayor.

This is a return to a common theme. We are desperately seeking to encourage the Government to stay true to the White Paper so that all communities have access to the fullest range of powers. The clause provides a process, via regulation, for powers to be directly conferred on the Mayor by the Secretary of State following agreement with that Mayor. When that happens and a Mayor suddenly gets a new and novel power, we want a requirement on the Secretary of State to notify all combined county authorities that that has been done. I will not repeat the arguments that I have made previously, but we want that so that other authorities might seek to take on similar powers, if that is what they would value for their community.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

My hon. Friend’s amendment is really important. We know that London holds the power and wealth of our nation, but we are talking about authorities around the country, the CCAs, that are more distant from London and where there is greater inequality, poverty and lack of opportunity. Not even to report on powers will mean more divergence rather than addressing the inequality, so we could be in a worse state when trying to address the disparities.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. What I am seeking to put in place is a virtuous cycle of communities taking on powers that will be impactful. Others will see that that can be done, and that might be one of the missing pieces in their puzzle. They might take it on themselves, move forward and take on greater responsibilities. That would be a very positive thing. It is a relatively light touch obligation. It asks for nothing more than the circulation of information. It does not oblige a community to take on powers. However, I think it would certainly be to the improvement of devolution.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 11:00 am, 5th July 2022

This is a very worthwhile amendment, which helps us to explore how we can play into local communities’ hunger for power and control over their own destinies. There is a real sense in many communities—I will speak specifically for rural ones, but this applies right across the country—of people being fed up with things happening to them, seeing things going wrong in their communities and feeling a sense of powerlessness: “What can I do to affect this?”

I will share two experiences. On Saturday, I was in the heart of the lakes, around Hawkshead and Ambleside, talking to tourism businesses struggling to find staff. We have a huge workforce crisis in all of rural Britain, but particularly in the lakes and the dales. We were talking about the things that it would be great to do locally to provide local affordable housing, caps on the number of second homes and limits on the number of holiday lets. That would provide places for a working-age population that is not earning tons of money to be able to live and preserve those communities.

Yesterday morning, I was in the village of Burton, with a good news story: we were beginning some work on developing an affordable housing project in the village that will underpin the sustainability of that community. However, I was talking to the housing association about how difficult it is to replicate that around the area, given the weak planning rules that do not allow them to take advantage of what might be the possibility of building 100% affordable settlements around a community like mine.

Those are all issues that we could tackle if we had the power. I think that communities are hungry for power and the ability to make a difference for their own futures. If the Government are sharing any power with the Mayor, then I want every other authority to know about it so that they can clamour for it too. I am not particularly critical of there being a lack of symmetry in devolution and in the models by which it is delivered. That is not because I am a fan of things being a mess, but because I am a fan of communities making their own choices.

Communities should not be forced to accept a particular model to gain powers that will give them power over their communities and the way in which their economies are run. To reflect that hunger, we must feed it so that everybody knows what is possible and on the table, and they can think, “Well, all right, we’d like those powers too.”

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Opposition Members have argued that the process in which new powers are given to CCAs should be transparent and public, and it will be. The processes that lead to the conferring of powers on a Mayor of a CCA are transparent and public. The Mayor must consult the constituent councils of the CCA regarding any requests for additional powers and then report those views to the Secretary of State when submitting their request.

If the Secretary of State agrees to a Mayor’s request, the functions to be conferred will be set out in regulations and then debated here. They must then be approved before they can be made. In considering those regulations, Parliament will have an explanatory memorandum and various other reports explaining why various powers are being conferred. It will therefore already be a public and transparent process—nothing can be hidden—so we regard the amendment as unnecessary.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I would argue that there is a difference between something not being hidden and its being shared. The points that colleagues have made were very good, and I would echo them. The point and thrust of the issue is to try to ensure that all areas know what is available to them and to give them the chance to reflect on and maybe ask for it themselves to improve their approaches to tackling all the challenges they face.

Of course, as the Bill says, the decisions will be made through a regulation and be taken by a Committee of Members in this place. However, I say gently to the Minister that I would not take that to be full publication. It will be published in a reasonable way—we have no doubt of that—but the idea that busy communities, county combined authorities or Mayors will instantly know that that has happened is not quite the same thing.

I hope that, at least, the Minister will reflect on the need for it to be understood what further powers that maybe even go beyond the White Paper might be available in future to county combined authorities. However, for the moment, I am happy to withdraw the amendment and not labour that point today. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.