Emma spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the 14 June about elected mayors outside city regions. The debate was tabled by the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, Justin Madders over his concerns about an elected mayor being imposed on his region.
In the debate, MPs from across the area said their areas were governed by Cheshire West and Chester Council, which, along with Cheshire East Council and Warrington Borough Council, formed part of the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership. Cheshire and Warrington, they pointed out, was not a metropolitan area or a city region and that it did not have a single urban centre that everybody identified with.
Several MPs in the region noted that the great irony in the devolution debate is that central Government are seeking to dictate to local government on the forms of governance. Genuine devolution, they felt should involve a two-way conversation.
As shadow Minster for the Department of Communities and Local Government, Emma closed the debate by emphasising that concerns over the Government’s imposition of mayors as part of devolution deals was shared across the country.
Although individual areas were promised bespoke deals by the Government, in reality the Government are essentially selling a one size fits all model where and accepting a mayor has become a prerequisite to gaining any devolutionary powers.
The philosophy underpinning Devolution is to move away from over-centralised governance and award more powers to the regions which creates more accountability and improves the democratic process. The devolution process should be an open a dialogue between central government and local government on what works best for an individual area.
From the outset, the Government promised the deals would work bottom up but from the outset they have been dictated in a top-down fashion. The Government tell us no one is forcing Devolution deals but they are forcing the terms and conditions – like the imposition of Mayors to head the Combined Authority.
A recent National Audit Office report gave weight to the legitimate criticisms coming up time-and-time-again in the Devolution deals, namely the insistence of an elected Mayor, local geography, lack of transparency and accountability and more importantly lack of public consultation.
You can read Emma’s speech here
Speaking after the debate Emma said,
“Once again, the Minster refused to answer the one question I put to him, which is to explain why, despite the myriad of dissenting voices from the public, trade unions, councillors, experts, Select Committees and politicians—even many in his own party—is there a rushed insistence on mayors?
The Government is exerting too much influence over the deal-making process. If the devolution agenda is to move forward and be successful, there is an urgent need for flexibility in the deals so we can deliver real power to the people, not the one-size fits all model being offered by the Government.
The Minister can’t keep evading legitimate questions and trotting out the same line that his Government are not forcing devolution when he knows full well that the binary choice on offer – Devolution powers with an elected Mayor or no devolution powers at all – puts council leaders in an impossible position.
By May next year, the public will find their region could have a Mayor they had no say over whether they wanted or not. It is a staggeringly undemocratic process that is being pushed through at lightning speed. For devolution to be a success, it must involve the people its whole purpose was meant to serve.”