Devolution negotiations in East Midlands unlikely to be delayed by Government resignations

County Hall in West Bridgford.
By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter

Negotiations for a devolution deal in the East Midlands are unlikely to be delayed by a series of ministerial resignations caused by the fall of Boris Johnson’s Government last week, Ben Bradley has said.

The Nottinghamshire County Council leader and Conservative Mansfield MP says negotiations are still ongoing despite “placeholder ministers” being in place in the Levelling Up Department until a new Government is formed.

It follows five ministers from the department resigning last week in protest against Boris Johnson’s leadership, with Neil O’Brien, the minister responsible for devolution negotiations, among the resignations.

Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, was also dramatically sacked by Mr Johnson after telling his long-time ally to resign.

Local leaders in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire had been in discussions with the department over a wide-ranging deal to bring more powers and funding to the region.

There are also negotiations about creating a mayoral combined authority, made up of representatives from the city and county councils, as well as a new mayor to govern the region.

Concerns have been raised from opposition leaders that the Government “crisis” could lead to a delay in the process, with council leaders expecting to conclude negotiations with Whitehall in the autumn.

However, Ben Bradley says he does not expect the process to be impacted by issues in Government and confirmed some negotiations have “accelerated” in recent weeks.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I don’t think there will be a delay, there’s a question of exactly what future legislation looks like because the new Prime Minister might have a view.

“But, certainly in the short-term, we’ve got placeholder ministers in there, our negotiation standpoint has actually accelerated and we’ve got more meetings scheduled with officials now.

“I’m confident that, over the summer and when it comes to our deal, by the time we’ve got a new Prime Minister and a new Government, we will be a couple of weeks from actually finishing it.

“So our deal itself is absolutely fine and everybody wants to crack on with levelling up.”

His comments come after Cllr Kate Foale, leader of the Labour Group at County Hall, questioned whether devolution will form part of a future government’s agenda following a Westminster “meltdown”.

Speaking in the cabinet meeting on Thursday (July 14), she said: “I’m concerned that the news from Westminster will have an impact on the timeline and could have serious consequences on this county.

“Given the meltdown in Westminster, I’m concerned whether devolution will even remain part of a future Government’s agenda.”

But Cllr Bruce Laughton (Con), deputy leader of the authority, said leaders in the region will continue pressing to ensure devolution is front and centre in Whitehall’s plans.

He said: “Levelling up is extremely important to us, it’s one of the major positives we’ve had since taking over control of this council.

“The opportunity for us to do more for our residents is something we’ve never had before.

“We will be doing everything in our power to ensure that whoever takes over as the new Prime Minister continues to have levelling up at the top of their agenda.”

If local leaders are successful in their negotiations, greater funding and powers could be provided to the region to control services like healthcare, public transport, planning, infrastructure, education and economic development.

Latest estimates suggest a full devolution deal – which would include the creation of the mayoral combined authority – could lead to the region earning more than £13 for every £1 it spends on local services.

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