Friday, 11 September 2015

Nine wasted months by local councils creating new CA. Will Broxtowe and Erewash Conservatives make the same mistake?

The local authorities of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have quietly joined forces to submit a 'combined authority' (CA) bid to the Government. You can read all about it on Broxtowe Borough Council's website.

At the beginning of 2015, Nottinghamshire was insisting that it would be successful with its own bid to create a CA. It was never going to happen and I blogged in January 2015 why. I argued then for the creation of a 'then city' CA based on Derby and Nottingham (see a link to that post here).

NINETEEN councils have signed up to create this new super-council, including Broxtowe. They are a disparate bunch for a number of reasons - politics, social, economic and geography. History and time have moved on since Domesday and the great local government reforms of the late-19th century (everything else outside Greater London and the metropolitan counties created in 1974 has been no more than tinkering).

The creation of a Derby-Notts CA, which will come with an elected mayor/super leader, will bring with it inevitable change. Five tiers of local government, from the many many parish/town councils to the two county councils, was not sustainable when it was just Nottinghamshire bidding to become a CA. Now it is even less so. I would not be too surprised if Bassetlaw did not eventually leave the Derby-Notts CA and join the proposed Sheffield CA, based on the South Yorkshire unitary councils. It would make sense in every respect.

Greater Manchester set the ball rolling (in terms of public awareness) and is based on just nine unitary councils (not NINETEEN councils from three different levels), all created in 1974 when the Greater Manchester Metropolitan County Council came into being. It didn't last long. The Conservatives created the council under Ted Heath and another Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher, abolished it in 1986, by which time the upstart council had earned a place in the affections of those who lived there. It continued to exist as a powerful voluntary partnership, jointly owning such things as Manchester Airport.

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have no such legacy to build on, but for it to work it will need to reduce the number of local political leaders. Broxtowe will have to cede powers to the new CA leader and the most important powers it will lose will be housing and planning. Privatise bin emptying services and you are left with Broxtowe becoming one big town council, who will then find itself under attack from the new CA and existing parish/town councils.

There is a way though for Broxtowe Borough Council to survive and I would suggest that is by teaming up with Erewash Borough Council. Both are Conservative controlled. Both border large Labour controlled city councils and, together, make a harmonious geographical area. Both have similar populations and total c.222,000 together - enough to create a sustainable unitary authority. If the Conservatives running the two councils could do this they would win twice - they would protect themselves from bigger city neighbours and almost certainly bring about the end of the two county councils. 

This, in my book, equals survival. It is a better fate than any of the others which await Broxtowe once the new CA exists. Leave it nine months and it will be 'bye bye Broxtowe' at some point. What would you do in this situation? Sit around and wait? I refuse to believe that Broxtowe Conservatives are that stupid. Act now and they stand a good chance of being in charge of their own destiny. 

I was right about the proposed Nottinghamshire CA at the beginning of 2015 and I am right again.

Remember, come the day, you read it here first.

PS. If you have not seen it, a Government report to Parliament in May 2015 is worth a look. Also the first CA in England is for Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. It is beginning happen...

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