The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill received its second reading on the 14 October in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, introduced the second reading citing the Conservative Party’s promise to ‘begin a bold new era of devolution.’ The debate went on for hours and MPs were eager to clarify and query aspects of the Bill. Here, we’ve highlighted some of the main discussions which arose, such as the issue of elected Mayors, Sunday Trading Laws and the organisation of combined authorities.
The North East does not want a Geordie Boris
Arguably, one of the issues causing the most contention for local authorities is whether or not they will have to have elected mayors. The MP for Blyth Valley, Ronnie Campbell, brought some light relief to the matter when he railed against the Bill ‘imposing a mayor on the leaders’ and stating that the north-east ‘does not want a Geordie Boris’.
Joking aside, the issue of elected mayors has been a bump in the road for some areas, such as Newcastle, Liverpool and West Yorkshire. However, Clark argued that the Bill does not have the ability to impose mayors on authorities, which somewhat conflicts with George Osbourne’s comments earlier this year that he ‘will not settle for anything less’.
Clark also tried to defend the role of mayors as prominent and identifiable figures who can help in the scrutiny of devolved power, after some members argued that the proposed form of devolution may not go far enough and that devolving purely from Whitehall to the town hall does not actually empower communities.
Organisation of authorities
After some Members raised concerns that certain forms of combined authority will be imposed upon them, Clark highlighted how the Bill leaves the door open for different authorities to put different arrangements together, and that no one form will be imposed on any authority. He pointed out that Greater Manchester with its ten local authorities, for example, is very different to Birmingham, the largest local authority in Europe. “It would be completely wrong to seek to impose a Manchester agreement on Birmingham and its neighbours.”
Clark also added that discussions are being had about finding the right model for each area, however where areas do want a significant package of powers such as that which Greater Manchester is due to get, a system with a metro mayor will be expected because, he claims, it will bring accountability and drive forward change.
Sunday Trading Laws
One pertinent point raised by a number of Members is the potential that the power to set Sunday Trading regulations may be devolved. Members asked Clark for an assurance that if such provisions were to be part of the Bill, there would be an opportunity to debate them. Clark assured the House that the Government will need to take a view on the responses to the consultation and that if indeed such provisions were to be part of the Bill, it ‘would of course be essential to debate them on the floor of the House.’
Despite an attempt by MP John Trickett to throw the Bill out, the House voted to keep the Bill and it passed its second reading. After hours of debate, though, it is clear that there are still many questions about how the Bill will work and what it will do to Local Government. We await the Bill’s Committee Stage, which begins on 21 October and where MPs can make amendments to the Bill, to see if we can get a clearer picture.
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