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Inquiry into new mayors

Gazette, 4 February, 2016.

Jonathan Walker

Regional mayors and super councils are being created without consulting the people they are going to govern, an enquiry has warned.

An investigation by MPs criticised plans to introduce mayors in regions including Teesside.

They said councils and Government Ministers had agreed deals to create directly-elected mayors without involving residents in negotiations.

And it won’t be clear who is in charge of key services such as transport once the new system is up and running, MPs said.

Elections will be held in 2017 to select who will oversee the Tees Valley Combined Authority, which includes Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton, and Darlington, Hartlepool.

Council leaders agreed to create the Mayor is part of a deal with Chancellor George Osborne.

The deal represents a significant financial boost for Teesside – £15m a year over the next 30 years with a new Investment Fund been set up thanks to a guaranteed £450m from the government.

The Commons Communities and Local Government Committee has completed a six-month enquiry into the changes.

The MPs said they back the principle of devolving power to the regions and wanted the Government to go further in allowing regions to control their own affairs.

But they expressed concern about the way that deals had been agreed.

They said in a report: “We have been struck by the lack of discussion and consultation with the public in areas which have proposed, negotiated and agreed devolution deals”.

Council leaders felt they were under pressure to agree a deal, which meant they didn’t have time to hold lengthy consultations, MP said.

“For devolution to take root and fulfil its aims, it needs to involve and engage the people it is designed to benefit. There has been a consistent very significant lack of public consultation, engagement and communication.”

The MPs also warned that it may not be clear to the public whether the mayor, combined authority or local council is responsible for services.

And they said although each deal was supposed to meet the needs of a specific area, they appeared to be based on a blueprint imposed by government.

Clive Betts MP, chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said; “If we are to achieve devolution local leaders and the government must make far greater efforts to communicate with and engage the public.”

A Department for communities and local government spokesman said: “ Ministers have been repeatedly clear: this is a bottom-up process and there is no one-size fits all approach.”

Chair of the Tees Valley Shadow Combined Authority Councillor Sue Jeffrey said: “The report acknowledges that the lack of public consultation was due to a areas having limited time in the run-up to the deadline.

“We were keen that we did not miss out on the opportunity to get a devolution deal, which will benefit the Tees Valley in the longer term.

“The deal has been discussed at all five full council meetings. We have been speaking to businesses and residents about devolution through our existing channels for example residents’ magazines, community meetings, business summits, etc.”

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