Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free

Jeremy Hunt will outline further devolution plans for England’s elected mayors in the Autumn Statement this week, which are likely to fall short of some of the regional leaders’ more ambitious demands.

The UK chancellor is expected to publish more detail on how greater financial autonomy for the West Midlands and Greater Manchester regions will work in practice, after “trailblazer” pilots were announced in the Budget in March. 

Hunt is also likely to set out how other metro mayors, such as those for West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Tees Valley, could take on greater powers in areas such as education, housing and transport through future “single funding settlements”, according to officials and aides familiar with his plans.

These mechanisms would mean elected mayors would avoid having to bid for their share of various departmental funding pots and give them more flexibility over how they spend the money. 

The chancellor is expected to describe his plans as “a memorandum of understanding between central and regional government” and invite mayors to apply “when ready”, according to officials.

The move is part of a process, involving negotiations between mayoral combined authorities and Whitehall, that started in February last year when the government published its Levelling Up white paper setting out ministers’ broad intentions for greater devolution in England.

However, officials cautioned that beyond the deals for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, the other settlements were unlikely to be finalised before the next general election. Nor are they expected to go as far as the promised “trailblazer” deals.

For example, the next tier of mayoral authorities will not receive the ability to retain and therefore borrow against business rates, which was a big part of the offer to Manchester and the West Midlands.

One senior Tory said the offer fell short of many of the other mayors’ expectations. “It looks like Number 10 watered it down completely . . . it’s quite tame,” he said.

Local government figures expressed disappointment that the deals had not been signed off fully ahead of the Autumn Statement and questioned Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s commitment to further devolution.

One figure in a mayoral combined authority hoping for such a deal said levelling up secretary Michael Gove “has been fighting on our behalf”, but expressed frustration that more progress had not been made. “Even Jeremy Hunt is on board,” they said, “but the problem seems to be the prime minister.”

With Greater Manchester and the West Midlands getting “further and faster devolution . . . others are going to be left behind”, they added. “This is the exact opposite of levelling up.”

Among the details of the deals for West Midlands and Manchester expected to be confirmed in the Autumn Statement is the level of additional scrutiny both city regions can expect from Whitehall.

The government declined to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *