Today Derby City Council’s Cabinet approved the development of an options appraisal for Local Government Reform (LGR).
The changing Local Government landscape means that authorities such as Derby may not be accessing all the funding and flexibilities that areas such as London, the North West and the Midlands are benefitting from. Given the financial challenges caused by COVID-19, this funding is badly needed to support the city’s recovery.
The Government is expected to publish a White Paper on Recovery and Devolution by the end of the calendar year. In recent weeks, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire councils have all announced their intention to put forward proposals to the Secretary of State to create countywide single-tier authorities.
Derby City Council has now had approval to begin the process of exploring all of the options available to Derby in advance of the Government’s White Paper. The options appraisal and subsequent business case for LGR would be subject to support from partner authorities and public consultation.
Recent research undertaken by leading thinktank, Centre for Cities (CfC), suggests LGR is critical to supporting economic growth and financial sustainability. Their report, ‘Levelling Up Local Government in England’ is intended as a blueprint for change, providing a new framework for reforming the local authority landscape.
Under their plans, all two-tier systems would be reformed to unitary structures, and Local Government boundaries would better match local economic geography. CfC wants cities and towns that are economically interdependent, to be connected by their Local Government institutions. Each area would have a minimum population of 300,000 people and a maximum threshold of 800,000, about the size of Leeds City Council.
The CfC also recommend ‘A New Deal for Local Government’ and suggest these changes to how councils are run and financed:
- Have greater control over council tax and business rates
- Remove restrictions on how revenue from sales, fees and charges can be used
- A clear transition to self-funded Local Government — so that central Government begins to withdraw from the process
- Fiscal flexibility — changing the way local authorities have to balance their budgets and account for spending
The CfC plans are set to widen the debate on how local councils will be re-shaped for the future.
The Leader of Derby City Council, Councillor Chris Poulter, said:
“The reform of Local Government is clearly on the agenda and the discussions will only increase as we move closer to the Government’s announcement, which is expected to happen in the next few months. Therefore, the time is right to consider how we respond to this challenge.
“We start with a blank page, and we want to speak to our partner authorities, citizens and other stakeholders, to hear what they have to say and gain a consensus.
“We do believe that by coming together we will create a better future for Derby and the surrounding areas. It will lead to us having a stronger voice, bring better outcomes for citizens, and give us the opportunity to improve the delivery of services and provide greater value for money.”