Devolution refers to the decentralisation of powers, decision making and funding away from central government to locally democratically elected and accountable bodies. There are high-profile examples in metropolitan areas of England such as Greater Manchester and the West Midlands – and of course in London. These areas, which have concluded what are known as Level 3 devolution deals with government, have elected Mayors, several of whom are nationally recognised figures.
Although Level 3 deals may be agreed with non-metropolitan areas, such as Essex, there is not currently sufficient agreement at the political level that a Level 3 deal would beright for Essex. Following discussions with the Government, Greater Essex is proceeding towards a non-mayoral devolution deal (known as a ‘Level 2’ deal). The position of Essex Chambers of Commerce is that it supports the aim of agreeing a Level 2 deal, as a necessary first step towards in time agreeing a Level 3 deal for the county.
Under the Level 2 deal, there would be a new Greater Essex Combined County Authority. This would mean the three upper tier authorities (Essex, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock) would make collective decisions about the powers and budget given to them by the Government.
Details of the deal will be finalised in upcoming negotiations, but we believe there are clear benefits for businesses, including:
- faster decision making – improved service delivery under a Combined County Authority, enabling faster approvals, reduced bureaucracy and development of policies that are better aligned with local economic needs
- improved business support and engagement – drawing upon investment from multiple sources (such as the Local Enterprise Partnership and Shared Prosperity Fund) to strengthen business support across all geographies
- local infrastructure investment – the ability to prioritise projects that are crucial for local businesses and lead to economic growth and job creation. This includes improved strategic transport planning, improving connectivity, tackling congestion and taking on bus franchising
- training to fill your vacancies – greater influence over the £30m per annum Adult Education Budget. This will help to align local training provision to your business need, providing the right type of training where and when it’s needed
- regional Innovation hubs – the establishment of research centres, technology clusters and innovation hubs to enhance collaboration between businesses and research institutions
- Inward investment and place promotion – enable private and public sectors to co-develop a joined-up approach to inward investment and place marketing, helping Greater Essex to stand out and compete with impact
- specific project funding – we are discussing with Government whether there is scope to include additional capital project funding in the deal.
What comes next?
Greater Essex is in negotiation with government and is aiming to agree a deal in time for the Autumn Budget Statement on 22 November.
Once agreed, Essex County Council, Southend-on-Sea City Council and Thurrock Council would then carry out a full public consultation from 4 December 2023 to 26 January 2024. Businesses will be invited to offer views on the proposed deal.
What does a Level 2 Deal mean for Greater Essex?
It is important to understand what a Level 2 will not do. It will not merge the three councils or establish a Directly elected Mayor. There are also no tax implications.
The deal will involve creating a new Greater Essex Combined County Authority and will incorporate functions currently carried out by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership. Essex County Council, Southend-on-Sea City Council and Thurrock Council will each remain sovereign and independent under the Combined County Authority.
Have your say and shape plans for devolution
We encourage businesses which support the ambition set out above to write to their local MPs and council leaders to say so, as the Chambers itself has done. If you would like more information or assistance please contact Iain McNab, Head of Policy at Essex Chambers of Commerce – and do watch out for the launch of the consultation.