Devolution deal to delivery

Devolution deal to delivery
A guide to help councils navigate devolution deals

Executive summary

This report for the Local Government Association (LGA) from Shared Intelligence is part of the LGA’s sector support programme, funded by HM Government.

This report looks into the experience of combined authorities to date with a particular focus on understanding the lessons from developing a devolution deal to delivering it for councils in places which do not currently have a combined authority. Given the differences between the combined authorities and how they work, our findings may also be of interest to councillors and officers in the combined authority areas.

This research is based on a review of key documentation, including the combined authorities’ websites and devolution deals, interviews with: senior combined authority officers; leaders and chief executives from constituent councils and from councils which do not have a combined authority; and with some other national and local stakeholders.

An important feature of the mayoral combined authorities is their diversity. This diversity reflects a range of factors including geography, the history of collaboration and political culture. In terms of drawing lessons from the experience of the combined authorities to date this diversity means that it is important to take into account the particular circumstances of the authority concerned.

We set out our lessons from the experience of the nine mayoral combined authorities under seven headings: geography and local government structures; the journey to the establishment of a combined authority; the relationship between combined authorities and their constituent councils; the style and size of organisation; the different roles of the mayors; the devolution deals; and the overall impact to date of the combined authorities. We also reflect on the changing political and policy landscape in which the combined authorities are operating.

Geography

Many people we spoke to point to a link between geography and the effectiveness of a combined authority. This is about administrative coherence, scale and the importance of reflecting the economic and transport geography. The experience in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough illustrates the challenge of applying the mayoral combined authority model in a two-tier setting.

The journey to a combined authority

The journey to the establishment of a mayoral combined authority varies significantly from place to place. In all places the agreement to the mayoral role was an explicit trade in return for devolved powers and resources from government. But the ways in which the places reached that decision point are very different.

In some places, notably Greater Manchester and Tees Valley, the creation of a combined authority is the culmination of decades of collaboration across the same geography. One consequence of these different journeys is the extent to which they were driven by long-term bottom-up aspirations and visions or by a more pragmatic focus on what has to be “given” in return for a devolution deal.

Relationship with constituent councils

Some of the senior combined authority officers we spoke to talked about the problematic relationships with their constituent councils. They describe themselves as not being part of local government. People from other combined authorities described themselves as the latest member of the local government family and talk about the mayor as “first among equals”. Features that are perceived to contribute to a positive relationship include:

  • the importance of a close and continuing dialogue between the mayor and council leaders
  • the allocation of portfolios to chief executives as well as leaders
  • the existence of a constant dialogue and the evolution of relationships including, pre-COVID-19, leaders and chief executives being present in the combined authority’s offices
  • joint prioritisation processes and a collaborative approach to the development of key documents.

Size and style of organisation

The size and shape of the combined authorities as organisations varies significantly. As is clear from the pen portraits in the annex this reflects factors such as the style of the organisation and its relationship with the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and transport body. 

The mayors

Just as the combined authorities vary significantly, so do the first cohort of “metro mayors”, in terms of the profile and mode of operation. On the basis of our research, we have identified four different styles, which each mayor is deploying in different permutations. The styles are disrupter, convenor, leader and advocate. In practice this can mean:

  • Disrupting by bringing new perspectives to longstanding challenges.
  • Convening partners in new modes of collaboration.
  • Providing political leadership on challenging issues.
  • Acting as an advocate for the place regionally and nationally.

The deals and the powers

The negotiation of the early devolution deals is widely seen as having been an important and creative process with significant benefits for the areas concerned. Over time, however, the process of negotiating devolution agreements is seen as having become more difficult and less innovative, with less satisfactory outcomes. This is perceived to reflect shrinking government ambition and capacity and the adoption of a more formulaic approach with government unwilling to consider elements that were not included in earlier deals.

The impact

There is no doubt that combined authorities have brought added value to localities through the deals negotiated with central government. The extent to which this added value is delivered and how it is perceived depends on how the six factors identified above in the area concerned.

The changing landscape

The landscape in which the combined authorities are operating and in which other places may be considering the case for establishing one has shifted significantly as a result of several factors. They include:

  • the COVID-19 pandemic
  • the Government’s pivot away from devolved resources towards small competitive pots of funding; the demise of the national industrial strategy
  • the uncertainty around the future of LEPs
  • the new skills white paper which envisages a minimal role for LEPs, councils and combined authorities
  • the renewed focus on the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and the expectation of a White Paper in the autumn.

On the other hand, the need to support collaboration across appropriate geographies remains important as does an ability for localities to negotiate bespoke arrangements with government such as the devolution deal agreed by Cornwall Council. In light of this changing context, we have used the results of the research to inform a series of questions which we recommend that places which do not currently have combined authorities should explore. The answers to these questions are explored in the final section of the report and set out the lessons and conditions identified in the research. These factors will help places who are currently deciding mechanisms required to deliver place-based outcomes. They are:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What mechanisms would help us do so?
  • If the answer is a combined authority, what do we need to think about?
  • If the answer is not a combined authority, what are the alternative models and structures?

Introduction

The publication of the report coincides with the start of new terms of office for the majority of “metro mayors”, including three newly elected mayors. This is therefore an appropriate time to take stock of the experience of the combined authorities and the extent to which they have achieved the ambitions of the councils which promoted their establishment.

At the time of writing councils are still managing the response to COVID-19. The combined authorities and their constituent councils are thinking about their plans for the next four years. The direction of government policy remains unclear but there is an anticipation of more opportunities for devolution with the added promise of a Levelling Up White Paper. It is important to note, that legislation is already in place to enable the establishment of further combined authorities and the negotiation of new devolution deals.

Our primary objective has been to draw lessons from the experience of the combined authorities to date for places which at present do not have a combined authority or a devolution agreement with government. The differences identified across combined authorities may also be of interest to those in combined authority areas.

The report is based on research carried out in two phases.

In an initial round of research, we reviewed key documentation and conducted a series of interviews with a senior officer from each combined authority and from Cornwall and Oxfordshire. We also spoke to:

  • a small sample of senior politicians and officers from councils within a combined authority area
  • a small sample of senior politicians and officers from councils which are not currently in a combined authority area
  • a small number of other stakeholders from central government, higher education, the health service, local enterprise partnerships and London.

In the second phase we carried out more in-depth desk research in four combined authority areas: Liverpool City Region; Tees Valley; West Midlands; and West Yorkshire. This research included a mixture of:

  • further desk research, including the relevant devolution deals
  • group discussion with senior officers from the combined authorities
  • interviews with leaders and chief executives from constituent councils.

We have also worked with a sounding board, comprising council leaders and chief executives, to test our findings and conclusions.

We have presented the results of this research in three ways:

  • an introduction to the combined authorities, a short pen portrait of the four “deep dive” combined authorities and a shorter description of the other five
  • a presentation of our findings on the experience of the combined authorities to date
  • a section setting out four sets of issues we recommend, on the basis of our research, that places which do not currently have a combined authority should explore.

An introduction to the combined authorities

A combined authority is a legal body established under legislation that enables two or more councils to collaborate and take collective decisions across council boundaries. There are two types of combined authority: those with an elected “metro mayor” and those without. The core legislation relating to combined authorities is the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 amended by the Cities and Government Devolution Act. Recent government policy has been to make the devolution of significant powers and resources to combined authorities dependent on localities opting for the mayoral model.

There are now nine mayoral combined authorities in: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, North of Tyne, Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley, West of England, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. Arrangements in London are different. The Greater London Authority, comprising the mayor of London and the London Assembly, was established by the Greater London Authority Act 1999, with additional powers made available through the Greater London Authority Act 2007.

An important feature of the combined authorities is their diversity. As we explain below, this diversity reflects a range of factors including geography, the history of collaboration and political culture. In terms of drawing lessons from the experience of the combined authorities to date this diversity means that it is important to take into account the particular circumstances of the authority concerned.

The oldest combined authority, Greater Manchester was established in 2011 and the most recent, North of Tyne, in 2019. Six combined authorities held their first mayoral elections in May 2017 (with the second elections held in May 2021), and the first West Yorkshire mayoral election took place in May 2021. In terms of the negotiation of devolution deals there was a concentration of activity in the middle of the last decade, but West Yorkshire’s second deal was not finalised until March 2020.

The size of the combined authorities varies significantly. Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are the biggest in terms of both the number of constituent councils (10 and seven respectively) and population (2.8 million and 2.9 million). The smallest are North of Tyne (three councils), West of England (three councils) and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (one unitary council and one county council including a city and four districts). Several combined authorities have non-voting, non-constituent councils covering neighbouring areas.

Four of the current “metro mayors” have been MPs; one still is, and one was previously a Secretary of State. All but one has previously held elected offices, and he was previously a LEP chair.

Some combined authorities, such as Tees Valley and Greater Manchester, have relatively simple geographies with a high degree of coterminosity. The position in some other combined authorities is more complex. For example:

  • West Midlands Combined Authority has three LEPs, two of which include areas outside the boundaries of the authorities’ constituent councils.
  • Both the LEP and transport authority relating to the North of Tyne Combined Authority cover a wider area.

Some combined authorities have a very focussed set of responsibilities, powers and resources and others are more wide-ranging. Tees Valley, for example, focuses primarily on enabling economic growth. This is a priority for every combined authority, but others have a wider focus:

  • The mayors of Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire also have the police and crime commissioner roles.
  • Powers in relation to health and social care have been devolved to Greater Manchester through its health and care partnership.
  • Several combined authorities are leading work on public service reform.

Given the focus on the economy all combined authorities have close relationships with their LEP or LEPs, but the nature of that relationship varies. In some cases, the LEP is fully integrated into the combined authority in terms governance and/or officer structures. In some cases, the LEP remains as an independent entity, in others it is the combined authority’s business board.

In the annex we provide pen portraits of the four combined authorities in which we carried out more detailed research and shorter descriptions of the key features of the other five authorities.

What have we learnt?

It is clear from our research that there are significant lessons to be learnt from the experience of the combined authorities over the last 10 years. There are lessons for the combined authorities themselves, for other places considering establishing them and for councils exploring other options in relation to collaboration across wider geographies and their relationship with government and national agencies.

In this section of the report, we draw on our research to explore those lessons. We do so under seven headings: geography and local government structures; the journey to the establishment of a combined authority; the relationship between combined authorities and their constituent councils; the style and size of organisation; the different roles of the mayors; the devolution deals; and the overall impact to date of the combined authorities. We also reflect on the changing political and policy landscape in which the combined authorities are operating.

Geography and local government structures

Many of the people we spoke to as part of our research emphasised the link between geography and the effectiveness of combined authorities. In a small number of places, such as Greater Manchester and Tees Valley, the administrative geography works well for other purposes – for example as a functional economic area and/or for transport planning. In some places, such as the West Midlands and Sheffield City Region, a distinction has had to be made between constituent and non-constituent members in order to reconcile administrative and economic geographies. In other places, such as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, North of the Tyne and the West of England the geography reflects outcome of local discussions about the value of a combined authority.

The geography of some combined authorities is smaller than that of other sub-regional bodies but the majority of the devolution deals cover city regions and cities. Cornwall breaks this mould in both its geography being predominately rural and coastal as well as securing a deal without a combined authority structure or mayor.

Two of the LEPs in the West Midlands Combined Authority include councils which are not constituent members of the authority. The same is the case with the North East LEP and the West of England LEP. In the case of the North of Tyne Combined Authority the transport body also covers a larger geography. Delivered at this scale, interviewees highlighted that transport projects can be delivered more efficiently and improve alignment, coordination and delivery.

Regardless of how well the geography works, it will not reflect all the interests of every council, many of which have strong economic relationships with places outside their combined authority. In the case of the West Midlands, there are strong links between the Black Country and Staffordshire and between Coventry and the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. Bristol sees significant added value in the geographical scale of the Western Gateway.

Only one combined authority currently has an area with “two-tier” local government as part of its core membership: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This results in a situation in which a resident of South Cambridgeshire is served by five levels of governance: a parish council, a district council, a county council, a combined authority and a partnership board created to provide governance arrangements for the Greater Cambridge City Deal. This is in addition to wider governance across health and policing. The experience in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough illustrates the challenges of applying the combined authority model of devolution in a two-tier setting. In the summer of 2020, the Government linked the creation of further combined authorities to local government reorganisation. An alternative approach would be for the Government to adopt a more flexible approach to models of devolution, as it did in Cornwall.

The journey to a combined authority

The journey to the establishment of a mayoral combined authority varies significantly from place to place. In all places the agreement to the mayoral role was an explicit trade in return for devolved powers and resources from government. But the ways in which the places reached that decision point are very different.

In some places, notably Greater Manchester and Tees Valley, the creation of a combined authority is the culmination of decades of collaboration across the same geography. In Greater Manchester, which was the first place to establish a combined authority, the steps along the way included the creation of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (following the abolition of the Greater Manchester Council in 1985) and the establishment of a statutory joint committee. The journey to a combined authority was underpinned by the extensive work on the economy of Greater Manchester by its Commission for the New Economy and the Manchester Independent Economic Review.

There was a history of collaboration across the West Midlands conurbation, but it was combined with more local centres of activity around the Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire and Birmingham and Solihull, each of which have distinctive economies.

In other places differences of appetite between councils for the mayoral model had a significant influence on the ultimate shape of the combined authority. This was the case in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, North of the Tyne and the West of England. The routes to creating combined authorities in Yorkshire have been influenced by the debate about the case for a Yorkshire-wide body.

One consequence of these different journeys is the extent to which they were driven by long-term bottom-up aspirations and visions or by a more pragmatic focus on what has to be “given” in return for a devolution deal. In this context the lessons our interviewees have identified include:

  • The value of a vision-led approach in terms of local ownership and the robustness of the arrangements. Interviewees talk about the value of the councils concerned having a shared understanding of what they are seeking to achieve and why a combined authority and devolution deal are important in enabling them to do so.
  • The time and care required to develop new political institutions and the importance of members agreeing to the mayoral model “with their eyes open”. One leader we interviewed referred to the political risk involved in creating a new political role and the need to spend time building relationships in order to exploit the strengths of the role.

Relationship with constituent councils

Each of the combined authorities was created by their constituent councils but the nature of their relationship with the councils today varies significantly. In theory the arrangements are very similar: leaders forming the cabinet alongside the mayor, each with a portfolio; and a combination of formal and informal governance and officer structures. In practice the nature of the relationships varies significantly.

The nature of the relationship between combined authorities is important and can have implications for their impact. In some cases, relations are problematic. One combined authority officer, for example, said their authority is not part of local government. In other cases, relationships are closer, reflecting both a different approach and the fact that time and effort are devoted to the relationship. An officer from another combined authority highlighted that is important to always remember that “the combined authority is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the councils.” A third combined authority official described the combined authority as the latest member of the local government family and talked about the mayor as “first among equals” with the other leaders. Several referred to close relationships with the constituent councils which are evolving over time.

Challenges include changes in key players, the pressure of the day job and perceptions that council officers lack a sub-regional perspective. Features that are perceived to contribute to a positive relationship include:

  • the importance of a close and continuing dialogue between the mayor and council leaders
  • the effort the combined authority puts into working closely with the constituent councils and which is reciprocated by the time the councils put into the combined authority
  • the allocation of portfolios to chief executives as well as leaders and the level of support provided to leaders in their role as combined authority portfolio holders
  • the existence of a constant dialogue and the evolution of relationships including, pre-COVID-19, leaders and chief executives being present in the combined authority’s offices
  • joint prioritisation processes and a collaborative approach to the development of key documents.

Style and size of organisation

The size and shape of the combined authorities as organisations varies significantly. As is clear from the pen portraits in the annex this reflects factors such as the style of the organisation and its relationship with the LEP(s) and transport body. Several of the places which moved quickly to establish mayoral combined authorities noted the challenge involved in putting an organisation in place following the election of the mayor.

Interviewees raised three other important points about combined authorities as organisations:

  • The resources required to support the mayor and the implications for the chief executive role which in some areas is not as high profile or outward facing as a council chief executive.
  • The opportunity to attract a different mix of skills from that available in most councils including people from business, universities and government.
  • The ability of the combined authority to supplement council resources on particular projects and initiatives.

A theme raised by several interviewees is the danger of under-estimating the time and resource required to establish a combined authority. Planning earlier on in the negotiations, before the implementation please, was considered important to determine the size and shape of the new organisation. The nature of resource was also raised as a lesson to learn in relation to capacity and capability. Combined authorities are perceived to require access to commercial skills as well as to dedicated HR, legal and governance support.

In many combined authorities the LEP role has been integrated into the combined authority in terms of both governance and officer arrangements. This is seen as having provided a way of enabling the business voice to influence combined authorities’ decision-making across its full range of responsibilities. One interviewee felt that changes to the role of LEPs nationally may give their combined authority more scope to design a mechanism for securing a powerful business voice that better meets their requirements.

The situation in the West Midlands, where there are three LEPs, is very different. Each LEP is a non-voting member of the authority. At least one other combined authority has maintained a clear distinction between the LEP and the authority. This is felt to be an effective way of capturing business intelligence and focus which both drives work on the economy and business support while informing other aspects of the combined authorities’ work.

The mayors

Just as the combined authorities vary significantly, so do the first cohort of “metro mayors”, in terms of the profile and mode of operation. On the basis of our research, we have identified four different styles, which each mayor is deploying in different permutations. The styles are disrupter, convenor, leader and advocate. In practice this can mean: disrupting by bringing new perspectives to longstanding challenges; convening partners in new modes of collaboration; providing political leadership on challenging issues; and acting as an advocate for the place regionally and nationally.

All but one of the mayors had previously held elected roles: four as councillors and three as MPs (one was a Secretary of State, and one is still an MP). The eighth was a leading businessperson and LEP chair.

In many ways the roles and powers of the mayors are constrained by the constitutions developed by the constituent councils when the combined authorities were established. The mayors have no choice over most or all of their “cabinet” members and depend on the votes of the council leaders to take decisions. They do, however, have significant soft power that often derives from their personal electoral mandate, their public profile and their ability to develop a direct relationship with government and with significant local stakeholders. This is particularly important where political alignment does not match either with constituent councils or at a national level.

Most of our interviewees see the deployment of this soft power as a major asset for the place attracting attention, investment and support for initiatives and programmes to address the needs of the areas they represent. The collective influence of the M9 group is also seen as an important soft power and reference point.

One interviewee also noted that that the mayoral role had been “the icing on the combined authority cake” which was required in order to secure a devolution deal. One combined authority’s constitution was described as having been designed to constrain the mayor’s individual power, and one interviewee noted that the relatively low profile of the mayor in that area had helped to retain commitment to the combined authority. Others argued that the high public profile of the mayor, locally and with government, was critical to the success of the authority.

In particular, the role of the mayor in enabling access to ministers and government is seen as being really important despite the political differences in many areas. There is a recognition that ministers know who the mayor of the city region is but won’t always remember the names of all the leaders. Many mayors are careful to ensure that the intelligence is shared with the councils and that they are involved in crafting what is said to Whitehall and how opportunities for activity are shared. As a result, councils and council leaders reflected that they do not feel marginalised or excluded.

In Tees Valley the mayor’s focus on business and the economy was seen as an important driver of the authority. In Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region the continual dialogue between the mayors and council leaders was cited as a key success factor. In other places where relations between the mayor and leaders is more distant interviewees have attributed this in part to the absence of anyone with political antennae in the mayor’s office.

The deals and the powers

The negotiation of the early devolution deals is widely seen as having been an important and creative process with significant benefits for the areas concerned. Over time, however, the process of negotiating devolution agreements is seen as having become more difficult and less innovative, with less satisfactory outcomes. This is perceived to reflect shrinking government ambition and capacity and the adoption of a more formulaic approach with government unwilling to consider elements that were not included in earlier deals. This mirrors the experience of councils in previous forms of engagement with government such as local public service agreements, local area agreements and city deals: the first rounds of which involved useful, creative conversations but subsequent ones were more bureaucratic. The later deals have been described as a “menu of options” drawing on what has gone before. As a tool for delivering place-based outcomes, this approach does not match the ambition of combined authorities.  

Four other themes relating to negotiations with government are important.

  • First, some government departments are seen to have been far less engaged than others: most notably the Department for Education (apart from on adult skills) and the Department of Work and Pensions.
  • Second, even the most ambitious deals were more about decentralisation than true devolution with no meaningful fiscal devolution.
  • Third, the alignment of powers can be as important as the funding negotiated. For example, responsibility for some but not all of the transport system can reduce the effectiveness of its delivery.
  • Finally, one of the most attractive aspects of the initial government offer was the devolution of substantial pots of money which could be allocated on the basis of local prioritisation: this is completely at odds with the Government’s recent pivot towards the use of nationally managed competitive funding processes.

The overall impact to date of the combined authorities

There is no doubt that combined authorities have brought added value to localities through the deals negotiated with central government. The extent to which this added value is delivered and how it is perceived depends on the six factors identified above. Examples of impact cited in our research (and summarised in the pen portraits) include:

  • accessing a wide variety of funding streams, such as gain share agreements and the Transforming Cities Fund, reflecting the value the government placed in the contribution of combined authorities
  • the deployment of the advocacy role of the mayors in securing other investments such as the relocation of government departments, potential links to HS2, new higher education institutions and initiatives such as a 5G test bed
  • programmes to support house construction and brownfield development and collaboration on skills and employment demonstrating the value of the scale of the combined authorities
  • using combined authority capacity and scale to make progress on cross-cutting topics such as inclusive growth, health inequalities and public service reform.

The changing landscape

The landscape in which the combined authorities are operating and in which other places may be considering the case for establishing one has shifted significantly as a result of several factors. They include: the COVID-19 pandemic; the government’s move away from devolved resources to smaller and more competitive funding streams; the shift from the national industrial strategy; the future of LEPs; and the new Skills White Paper which highlight a minimal role for LEPs, councils and combined authorities. These are outlined in more detail below.

The Government no longer refers to the long-awaited English Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper which had been expected to set out the Government’s ambition for devolution. Instead, the expectation has shifted to the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper. This should set out ministers’ understanding of and commitment to devolution in England.

The Budget 2021 put unitary, county and district councils in the driving seat in accessing regeneration funding, marginalising combined authorities and LEPs. In the short-term, localities are required to develop a shortlist of projects for two new funding opportunities of the Levelling Up Fund and the UK Community Renewal Fund (the precursor to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund). This represents a significant shift away from the idea of devolving pots of funding to combined authorities for them to prioritise locally.

A further shift relates to the review of LEPs and the demise of the National Industrial Strategy. The future role of LEPs remains uncertain as is the status of the local industrial strategies that many combined authorities put a considerable amount of effort into. The thinking and evidence on which the strategies were based remains important, however, as does effective engagement with businesses and other employers.

Finally, the Skills White Paper did not recognise the role of councils or LEPs in helping to ensure skills provision meets the needs of local employers and residents. The combined authorities were identified as “consultees” despite most of them having a particular remit around the local skills base. This raises questions about the future of government policy in relation to devolution in skills and employment which is likely to be the subject of continued debate in Parliament and discussions with government. 

This changing landscape suggests a dilution of government commitment to the combined authority model. If and when the picture becomes clearer councils considering whether or not to establish a combined authority will need to take the latest intelligence into account in exploring the four questions set out below.

Wider lessons

Reflecting on our research, we have identified four key lessons from the experience of the combined authorities over the last ten years.

First, the experience has demonstrated the value of collaboration over conurbation scale geographies between councils and other stakeholders including business and higher and further education. It is also clear, however, that successful collaboration at this scale requires sustained effort. There are no quick fixes.

Second, while many observers have challenged whether the combined authorities have benefitted from “true devolution”, they have had access to pots of resource which they have been able to allocate locally. This is widely seen as having been impactful. As noted above, current government direction is to return to smaller specific pots of money allocated by ministers in response to competitive bids.

Third, the process of negotiating devolution deals is widely perceived to have become more formulaic over time. The early deals were the product of genuine negotiation. The more recent ones have the flavour of a menu from which localities can chose with little opportunity for genuine innovation.

Finally, the vast majority of our interviewees pointed to the value of the “metro mayors”. They point in particular to their soft power, their role as conveners and their ability to raise the profile of the place and what the combined authority is seeking to achieve locally and nationally. Some interviewees question the quality of engagement between mayors and ministers when they are members of different political parties. Others see the relationship as being an important one regardless of party politics. For example, it is always easier for a minister to relate to one mayor rather than six or more council leaders.

Four questions for places without a combined authority to consider

It is clear from our research that the mayoral combined authorities are widely perceived to have had a positive impact on the areas in which they have been established. There is also evidence, however, that the combined authority model is not applicable everywhere and that they are currently less central to government thinking than was the case a year ago. The need to support collaboration across appropriate geographies remains important as does an ability for localities to negotiate bespoke arrangements with government. In the light of this conflicting evidence, we have used the results of the research to inform a series of questions which we recommend that places which do not currently have combined authorities should explore. They are:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What mechanisms would help us do so?
  • If the answer is a combined authority, what do we need to think about?
  • If the answer is not a combined authority what are the alternative models and structures?

Each of these questions is explored below.   

1. What are we trying to achieve?

Two clear lessons have emerged from our research with the current combined authorities. First, clarity of vision and a coherent geography are important drivers of the effectiveness and impact of combined authorities. Second, progress has been more difficult in places where the goal was primarily to secure a devolution agreement.

This question has been framed to encourage authorities in other places which are exploring a new relationship with government or new forms of collaboration at a local level to be clear what they are seeking to achieve. To be useful this requires clarity about the vision for a place and an agreement about the geography involved. From our research it is clear that in thinking about the geography of a place, trade-offs have to be made between:

  • geographies that make sense in terms of the economy, travel to work and sense of place and administrative boundaries with the benefits of coterminosity
  • the different geographic pulls that apply to councils which often involve strong links with different places for different purposes.

Having established a vision for the future of an agreed geography three other sets of issues should be explored. Doing so will inform decisions about the nature of collaboration that is required locally and the part that government can play is supporting the delivery of the vision.

The first set of issues relates to the challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed in order to deliver the vision and associated interventions. The second relates to the different roles of local organisations in delivering the vision and the most appropriate way of securing their views, buy-in and action. The final set of issues relates to the contribution that is sought from government in terms of devolved powers or resources. Taken together the exploration of these three sets of issues will inform decisions about the arrangements that need to be put in place to secure the delivery of the vision.

In summary the questions that places should explore in order to be clear about what they are seeking to achieve are:

  • What’s our vision, what are we seeking to achieve and across what geography?
  • What are the conditions necessary for us to deliver that vision? What are the challenges we need to address?
  • What do we need in terms of collaboration between councils, with other local stakeholders and with government?

2. What mechanisms would help us do so?

Another finding from our research that is particularly relevant to places considering how to proceed is that in several areas the creation of a mayoral combined authority was the culmination of a journey of collaboration across the geography involved. It is important that in thinking about what mechanisms they might establish, councils are aware of the options and what a journey of the type that places such as Greater Manchester have experienced might look like for them.

It may be helpful for councils to think about a spectrum of collaboration and organisational sophistication as illustrated below. In the case of Greater Manchester, for example, the councils concerned moved from the left to the right of the spectrum over a long period of time.

Informal partnership

Statutory joint committee

A devolution deal

Combined authority

Mayoral combined authority

Such as the leaders’ boards or wider partnerships that exist in many counties – eg  Leadership Gloucestershire.

Such as the Oxfordshire Growth Board which is a joint committee of six councils.

Such as in Cornwall as an example of rural devolution.

Such as the West Yorkshire Combined Authority until the Mayoral elections in May 2021.

Such as the other combined authorities.

 

In thinking about this spectrum, it is important to remember that:

  • Statutory joint committees are formal bodies that can be created by councils without any government involvement, but it may be felt that they lack the stability of a combined authority because any council can decide to leave of their own volition.
  • The combined authorities are formally established by Parliament and are more stable than a joint committee because any changes in their membership also requires Parliamentary approval.
  • There is more scope in the constitutions and governance arrangements for a combined authority to reflect the different roles of different councils and politicians in a sophisticated way than a joint committee can.
  • The legislation provides for the establishment of mayoral and non-mayoral combined authorities. The preference for combined authorities is more a reflection of government policy on devolution than a local appetite for mayors – although our research has identified examples of the added value of a mayor.

There are two other relevant points about mechanisms that councils should think about:

  • First, some ministers have stressed the contribution of partnerships covering larger geographies, such as the Midland Engine and Western Gateway. It is also significant, however, that the Department for Transport has only given statutory status to one sub-national transport body, Transport for the North.
  • Second, in a series of statements in summer 2020 ministers linked the creation of further combined authorities with the introduction of unitary local government.

In summary, having established a vision, councils should consider what mechanism is required to help them deliver it. They should explore the options outlined above and should in particular think about the case for pursuing an incremental journey rather than moving straight to the “big bang” of a combined authority. 

3. If the answer is a combined authority, what do we need to think about?

The seven lessons highlighted in an earlier section of this report included: geography and local government structures; the journey to the establishment of a combined authority; the relationship between combined authorities and their constituent councils; the style and size of organisation; the different roles of the mayors; the devolution deals; and the overall impact to date of the combined authorities. All these factors are central to consideration, development and negotiation of a combined authority, with or without a mayor and allied devolution deal.

Administrative coherence, scale and the need to reflect the economic and transport geography have all been highlighted as part of the geographic puzzle requiring collective thought. The distinction between constituent and non-constituent councils is also important. Consideration must be given to changing functional economic market areas as a result of the pandemic and levelling up agenda. The further complexity of “two tier” local government and the Government’s anticipated stance on further combined authorities coming with unitary models must be explored carefully.

The journey to the establishment of a mayoral combined authority has varied significantly. Common to those places was that the mayoral role was an explicit trade for devolved powers and resources from central government. What is important in establishing a new combined authority is clarity over long-term bottom-up aspirations and visions and having a clear view about the desired relationship between the combined authority and the constituent councils and how to secure and maintain that relationship. The findings set out in the previous section are relevant to this.

Our research has identified a number of ways in which places considering a combined authority can learn from the experience of the nine current authorities. They include:

  • the officer structures the combined authorities have put in place
  • the nature of the continuing engagement between the combined authority and its constituent councils
  • the different ways in which the LEP role has been incorporated
  • lessons from and perceptions of the process of agreeing devolution deals – seen as being increasingly formulaic with differences in enthusiasm and commitment across government.

Mayors were described as disrupters, convenors, leaders and advocates of places and communities. They have soft powers which often derive from their personal electoral mandate, their public profile and their ability to develop a direct relationship with government and with significant local stakeholders. The deployment of this soft power was seen as a major asset for the place attracting attention, investment and support. Important in this consideration is that each council retains effective engagement with the combined authority at a senior member and officer level.

If a group of councils conclude that a mayoral combined authority would enable them to deliver their vision for the place, our findings suggest that they should explore three further questions:

  • What is our ambition in terms of the relationship between the combined authority and the constituent councils and how do we want to achieve and sustain that?
  • What is our ambition in terms of the style, size and role of the combined authority as an organisation, including the LEP and/or the business voice?
  • How can engagement with stakeholders and the wider public define and contribute to better local outcomes?

4. If the answer is not a combined authority, what are the alternative models and structures?
 

This is an important question for councils to consider if their answer to the first question is that the delivery of their vision for the place requires collaboration with other councils and a different type of relationship with government, but they do not feel that the combined authority model is appropriate, at least in the short term. It may not be considered appropriate because of the rural nature of an area, the size and scale of the geography involved and the adaptability of the political culture to a mayor. If the ambition to collaborate more formally and with an identified challenge to overcome, there are a number of alternative approaches to establishing a combined authority.

If one of the structures referred to in our commentary on the second question about mechanisms to achieve ambition is in place, councils should consider whether it is sufficiently robust. Does it provide the degree of collaboration required in the future and does it cover the appropriate geography? Could it provide a steppingstone to more elaborate arrangements in the future? It is important that whatever arrangements are developed enable effective engagement with business, higher and further education, health, police and the voluntary and community sector. Councils should also question whether the model could be used in a more ambitious way or whether they need to consider establishing a more robust structure and/or cover a wider geography.

In terms of establishing a new relationship with government in order to deliver the vision it is important to note that there are already a variety of mechanisms in place. These include:

  • The devolution deal negotiated with government by Cornwall without the creation of a mayor or combined authority. The existence of a unitary council is, however, seen as an important feature of the arrangements put in place to negotiate and deliver the deal. This case study on the LGA website sets out the benefits in relation to one aspect of the devolution deal – the skills and employment aspirations. Council officers point to the process as a good example of place-based negotiations with government, but civil servants describe it as “sui generis” and unlikely to be a model for other places.
  • The Oxfordshire housing and growth deal. Officers involved in the process point to the growth board as having played a key role in enabling collaboration between the councils, the LEP, university, health and other partners in a two-tier area. They also stress the long-term nature of the task which requires sustained commitment from all parties, including government. More detail on the deal can be found in this case study on the LGA website.
  • Government’s engagement with organisations such as Midlands Engine, the Western Gateway and the non-statutory sub-national transport bodies. A recent report commissioned by the LGA highlights the benefits of such constructs and sets out the functions which work best at this sub-national level. A further report from the LGA on sub-national governance explores how mayoral models work in practice.

In exploring this question, it is also important to consider the progress that can be made with strong collaboration across districts and counties. Our previous research for the LGA into the relationship between districts and counties is relevant. In that research we collected views on the drivers of and barriers to collaboration, examples of collaboration, lessons for other areas and thoughts on the future of collaboration. The research took learning from 12 of the 26 two-tier areas in England at the time and concluded that there were seven drivers of collaboration. These are covered in summary below and align with many of the findings in this report whilst also considering government ambition.

People and trust

The importance of high levels of trust between political and managerial leaders. In many places, longstanding relationships underpin effective collaboration; in others, changes in leadership can create the conditions for closer joint working. Even in areas where relationships are good, they require continuing time and attention.

Formal structures

Formal structures such as leaders’ groups, joint committees, growth boards, collaboration agreements and district deals are important in providing a robust framework for collaboration and collective decision-making. It is also important to create the space and opportunities for informal meetings and real discussion.

Joint posts and double hatting

Joint posts and more extensive joint officer arrangements deliver benefits for the councils directly involved and wider district/county relationships. Members with roles in both types of council can also bring benefits to wider collaboration.

One size does not always fit all

County-wide collaboration is an important part of leveraging economies of scale across place. It can help avoid unnecessary duplication and support effective and efficient service delivery. There is also value in exploring whether more granular partnerships at project, district, or groups of district level can leverage opportunities unique to certain parts of a county, such as where a particular business type has clustered or where there is acute housing need.

A mobilising topic or initiative

Focusing on outcomes for people, places and communities is widely seen as the most powerful driver of collaboration. In many places the pursuit of a particular challenge, such as economic and housing growth, the climate emergency or the future of high streets has proved to be a powerful mobilising force.

A shared understanding of what is on the table

A shared understanding between leaders of what is and is not on the table for discussion is a prerequisite for sustained collaboration, giving clearly defined boundaries.

This is difficult

The historically hierarchical nature of government in England can place both counties and districts in a particular mindset about how they relate to one another. This in turn creates barriers to collaboration from the perspective of both types of council.

A pen portrait of each combined authority

Liverpool City Region

The Combined Authority

The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA) was established in 2014. It comprises six councils – Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral – and has a population of 1.5 million.

The mayor of the LCRCA, Steve Rotherham was elected for a second term in May 2021. He was MP for Liverpool Walton and is a former Lord Mayor of Liverpool.

The combined authority comprises the six councils. There are three non-voting members of the authority, including the LEP chair and Police and Crime Commissioner. Warrington and West Lancashire Councils are associate members of the combined authority.

Ten portfolios are allocated between the mayor and senior councillors including business, inclusive economy, housing and spatial framework and low carbon. Action is not being taken to ensure that leaders are better supported in their roles as combined authority portfolio holders.

The authority has four committees including a transport committee. It is represented on a number of outside bodies, including the Transport for North Partnership Board. The local enterprise partnership has been incorporated into the LCRCA’s constitution.

Maintaining close relationships with the constituent councils is a key priority for the combined authority. There are regular political meetings between the mayors and leaders, the chief executives currently meet twice a week (once on COVID-19 matters) and there are meetings of the mayors, leaders and chief executives. Other groups include growth directors and council policy leads. On housing, for example, there is a housing officers group which feeds into the combined authority’s housing and spatial planning board. The board is chaired by the leader of Knowsley as portfolio holder.

Since the election of the Metro Mayor in 2017 the combined authority has grown as an employer and has recruited approximately 250 staff, which adding in the pre-existing cohort of Merseytravel Transport focussed staff, has resulted in an organisation of over 950 staff.

The devolution deal and priorities

The LCRCA has negotiated two devolution deals. The first, agreed in November 2015, included devolved funding of £30 million a year over 30 years to be invested in the Liverpool City Region Single Investment Fund, a multi-year consolidated local transport budget and devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2018/19. The deal gave the combined authority powers over strategic planning and transport, including responsibility to create a Single Statutory City Region Framework and the ability to franchise bus services. The second devolution deal was agreed in March 2016. It builds upon the previous agreement with additional powers and responsibilities in seven core areas including business; children’s services; housing; apprenticeships; transport; and justice.

The combined authority’s priorities reflect the contents of the devolution deals and are summarised below.

Transport

The combined authority has pursued a number of initiatives to increase bus use and satisfaction, including MyTicket which gives young people aged between five and 18 unlimited day travel across Merseyside. The combined authority also funds half-priced bus travel for all apprentices aged between 19-24. Other transport investments include: £460 million for a new fleet of publicly owned trains; allocating £25 million for 15 highway schemes; and the development of a 600km network of cycling and walking routes over the next 10 years.

Energy and environment

LCRCA has a goal of becoming a zero-carbon city region by 2040. To achieve this, it is working to provide zero-carbon homes, low-emission transport, and renewable energy such as hydrogen power. The combined authority has set up an Air Quality Task Force made up of representatives from the city region’s six local authorities to advise on this work.

Skills and apprenticeships

The combined authority is currently responsible for the Adult Education Budget (AEB), the Skills Capital Fund, and the households into work scheme. In addition, the combined authority has launched a new apprenticeship portal ‘Be More’ to promote opportunities to prospective apprentices. This sits alongside a ‘Youth Impact’ group which, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, gives young people a platform to talk about issues that are important to them.

Digital

The city region aspires to be the most digitally connected region in the UK. It is home to several important digital assets including the most powerful supercomputer in the UK based at the Hartree Centre in Halton and the UK’s main trans-Atlantic fibre optic cables which run through Southport. The combined authority has worked together with its constituent councils and the LCR LEP to develop the LCR Digital Strategy & Action Plan (2021-2023). It focuses on six core digital priorities, including: Digital Infrastructure and Connectivity; Tech for Good & a Smart City Region; Digital and CreaTech Sector Development; Cross-Sector Digitalisation & AI; Digital Skills for Recovery & Growth and; Digital Inclusion.

Culture

Culture and the creative arts are an important aspect of LCR’s identity. The City Region was the first in the UK to commit to spending the equivalent of 1 per cent of its annual £30 million devolution funding to support cultural activities. In 2008 Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture. More recently, the city hosted the ‘Culture and Creativity Awards’ celebrating diverse creative activity in the arts, business, research, community and voluntary sectors. The combined authority is establishing a National Migration Museum to reflect on its rich cultural heritage and is working with government to develop a sustainable business model for National Museums Liverpool.

Housing and spatial planning

The LCRCA is committed to delivering affordable, energy efficient and well-designed housing. Since 2016 it has delivered 11,000 new homes and plans to deliver an additional 20,000 homes over the next five years. The combined authority aims to address the needs of its ageing population by making housing more accessible and ensuring that it can be adapted throughout an occupier’s lifecycle. It is also acting to tackle deprivation by regenerating the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The combined authority is working with councils and housing associations to improve the supply and quality of housing, using its Strategic Investment Fund to lever private and public investment for the most vulnerable communities. 

Homelessness

A key priority is tackling homelessness across the city region. The combined authority piloted the ‘Housing First’ programme with 60 service users as part of the Government’s national strategy to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness. Many of the people taking part in the pilot have complex needs and have been homeless for a significant period of time. So far, the programme has helped 48 people out of the 60 to find housing. The authority has built on the pilot by increasing its staffing capacity and setting up new Housing First teams based in the councils to provide one to one support for service users. 

Impact

The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is widely seen to have had had a significant impact on the area in hard and soft terms.

The hard impact is attributed to the benefits of the £900 million devolution deal including the gain share element. One example of this hard impact is the Shakespeare North Playhouse, due in open in Prescot, Knowsley, in summer 2020. At is core will be a 350-seat theatre modelled on the “cockpit-in-court” design. Other examples of the combined authority’s hard impact include:

  • £173 million in Transforming Cities Funding to modernise and improve travel across the city region
  • a share of £300 million to connect Liverpool to the HS2 network, which will also link to Crossrail for the North
  • greater collaboration across LCR’s councils allowing for more consensus on key decisions.

The combined authority’s soft impact is widely attributed to the role of the mayor in three important respects. First, his visibility locally including his role as the voice of the city region during the pandemic. Second, his ability to convene discussions. Third, the mayor’s access to ministers enabling significantly improved communication between government, the combined authority and the constituent councils.


Tees Valley Combined Authority

The combined authority

The Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) was established in 2016. It comprises five councils – Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees – and has a population of 675,900. The establishment of the combined authority followed a long period of collaboration and joint working between the councils.

The mayor of TVCA, Ben Houchen, was elected for a second term in May 2021. He was formerly a councillor on Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council.

The combined authority cabinet comprises the mayor of the combined authority plus the leaders or mayors of the constituent councils, plus the chair of the LEP (who is a non-voting member). The other members of the LEP Board are associate members of the combined authority.

Five portfolios are allocated between the members of the authority and cover: transport, education and skills, business growth, culture and tourism and inward investment.

The combined authority has three other statutory committees; Overview & Scrutiny Committee, Audit & Governance Committee and Transport Committee. The LEP is fully integrated into the combined authority with a single constitution and assurance framework. The authority’s relationship with Transport for the North is also seen as being important.

The TVCA has a number of advisory groups comprising key stakeholders which contribute to strategy development and delivery. Relations with constituent councils are underpinned by a network of formal and informal structures. There are multiple conversations with the councils before decisions are taken to the board.

The TVCA had a total staffing budget of £3.9 million in 2020-21 and employs around 130 people including a four-person mayoral office and a four-person senior leadership team.

The devolution deal and priorities

The tight focus of the mayor and the authority on enabling economic growth is seen as being an important distinguishing feature of the authority. This is reflected in its devolution deal, agreed in 2015, which focused on employment and skills, transport, planning, and investment from central government to Tees Valley. The deal gave the mayor powers in relation to:

  • a devolved consolidated transport budget
  • the creation of new Mayoral Development Corporations and leadership of a land commission to examine what publicly owned land and other key strategic sites should be vested in the development corporation
  • the creation of a Tees Valley Investment Fund
  • a new £15 million a year funding allocation over 30 years
  • the comprehensive review and redesign of the education, skills and employment support system in Tees Valley; resulting in devolution of the Adult Education Budget and Level 3 funding-approximately £31.5 million per annum
  • a devolved approach to business support to be developed in partnership with government.  

The Tees Valley Strategic Economic Plan identifies an ambition to deliver an additional 25,000 jobs by 2026 and an additional £2.8 billion of GVA. The local industrial strategy (local draft agreed July 2019) further sets out priorities for Tees Valley to be a global leader in Clean Energy, Low Carbon and Hydrogen. To achieve a net zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040, providing good jobs, with long term prospects that local people can access.

Education, employment & skills

The TVCA’s ‘Inspiring Our Future’ strategy seeks to transform education, employment and skills in the area with an aim to host 133,000 jobs by 2024. Through the Routes to Work programme the authority has supported over 3,420 long-term unemployed individuals, with around 670 being helped into employment. Through the devolved adult education budget, £58.3 million has been allocated to 31 Tees Valley Training Providers, with 15,000 learners participating in adult learning in 2020/21 with a further 22,300 enrolments supported.

The creation of the development corporation for the Teesworks site has enabled rapid development of the site and the creation of the Teesworks Skills Academy that will provide a single point of access for the site’s employers and their supply chains to access a readily available and skilled workforce. The Skills Academy links with training providers, Jobcentre Plus and local employment hubs to link people looking for work and requiring skills development to the appropriate employers.

Supporting business growth

Tees Valley is home to 17,610 businesses of which 17,520 are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Tees Valley Business, the new business gateway service, was launched by TVCA in July 2020 and provides businesses with a single point of access to the full range of business support that is available to Tees Valley businesses. Tees Valley Business provides information, diagnostic and brokerage into specific programmes of support based on tailored needs assessments, supporting businesses as they move forward through their development journey and the business lifecycle. In 2020-21 Tees Valley Business provided information, advice and direct support to 1,500 businesses and also provided in excess of 1,000 grants to businesses to the value of £16 million.

Innovation and clean growth

The TVCA has championed the case for low carbon approaches to production as a means of meeting carbon reduction targets through industrial decarbonisation and improving long term competitiveness. The area already benefits from a strong network of established innovation assets such as the Centre for Process Innovation, The Materials Processing Institute and TWI. Likewise, Teesside University are also well integrated into the regional innovation system and help provide academic-business knowledge exchange. To build on this, the combined authority aims to attract new investment, introduce new processes and practices which reduce carbon emissions, increase productivity and the availability of high value jobs - to help achieve their ambition of becoming a high value, low carbon, diverse and inclusive economy.

Transport & infrastructure

As a polycentric region, covering five distinct areas, supporting the movement of people across the region to access work, learning, culture and leisure opportunities is essential for future economic success of Tees Valley. Connectivity with other parts of the UK is also key including links across the Northern Powerhouse. Ensuring the future viability of Teesside International Airport as a catalyst for wider economic growth has also been a priority for the combined authority.  

Creative place

TVCA’s Growth Programme for the creative and visitor economies supports and helps create a broad spectrum of jobs across the sectors and in the wider economy. Through its investment in these important sectors, TVCA hopes to ensure a vibrant, creative and nourishing lived experience of place for local residents; a dynamic and attractive working and investment ready environment; and an appealing, engaging and welcoming experience for visitors.  

Through its Culture and Tourism Programme, TVCA is leading a number of programmes and initiatives, including the 2021 Rugby World Cup and the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Programme.

Impact

The TVCA is seen as having had a significant impact on the area, most notably: the creation of the Mayoral Development Corporation; the return of the airport to public ownership; being identified as one of the first places to create a Freeport as part of a new government policy; and the Government’s decision to relocate part of the Treasury and DIT to Darlington.

The South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) covers approximately 4,500 acres of land to the south of the River Tees including a former SSI steelworks site as well as other industrial assets. This is the UK’s largest and best-connected industrial zone for investment opportunities in sustainable, low-carbon and clean energy sectors. The redevelopment of the site, Teesworks, has already generated around 690 jobs and is expected to deliver 775 more by the end of the programme.

The return to public ownership of Teesside International Airport reinforced efforts to secure a domestic route to London. It has also enabled economic growth – for example, global aviation firm Willis Asset Management Limited chose Teesside International as its location for a European aircraft maintenance base to carry out maintenance, storage and disassembly of a wide variety of commercial aircraft types.

In the March 2021 Budget, the government announced its support for plans to establish a freeport in the Tees Valley. The 4,500-acre site is the largest in the UK. It is envisaged that it will enable the creation of 18,000 jobs and provide a £3.2 billion boost to the local economy over the next five years. The Government also announced plans for the Treasury’s new Northern Economic Campus to be located in Darlington. It will involve the relocation of 750 civil servants to the area alongside other economic-based departments.

Devolution and control of the Adult Education Budget has enabled a number of initiatives to be pursued including:

  • developing employer led skills pilots to provide local people with the skills they need to take advantage of the new jobs in the area meeting specific skills gaps identified by local businesses that are not currently eligible for public funding outside of the devolution deal
  • investment in action to support school improvement and support catch-up activity following COVID-19 lockdown
  • increasing the availability of Apprenticeship support to businesses
  • responding more rapidly to local requirements for skills and employment support than national mainstream provision
  • piloting a DWP approach to supporting long term unemployed people, the model which is now being implemented in the new national Restart programme.

West Midlands Combined Authority

The combined authority

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was established in 2016. It comprises seven constituent member councils – Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton – and 11 non-constituent councils with a population of 4 million. The area has a history of collaboration including at a more local level. There are, for example, three LEPs: Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire and Greater Birmingham and Solihull and the Black Country Consortium of the four Black Country councils.

The Mayor of the WMCA, Andy Street, was elected for a second term in May 2021. He was previously managing director of John Lewis and chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP.

In addition to the seven constituent councils which make up the electoral area for the Mayor, the WMCA has a number of non-voting non-constituent members including the three LEPs and ten councils from the wider West Midlands region.

Ten portfolios are allocated between council leaders and their deputies, including the leader of one non-constituent council. The portfolios include transport, housing & land, productivity & skills, economy & innovation, environment & energy, culture & digital, wellbeing, inclusive communities and public service reform. The portfolios include a range of delivery, enabling and influencing activity that contribute to an overall vision of a healthier, happier, better connected and more prosperous West Midlands.

The combined authority has three committees, including a transport committee, and seven boards covering topics such as environment, housing and land, public service reform and wellbeing. The WMCA makes decisions by consensus through the formal WMCA Board (chaired by the Mayor). WMCA also works with senior people from different sectors who are champions for or lead task forces on topics such as homelessness, high streets and leadership.

WMCA’s Strategic Leadership Team comprises a chief executive and six executive directors. The combined authority’s approved revenue budget for 2021/22 is £333 million, including employee costs of around £41 million. The combined authority’s approved capital budget for 2021/22 is £605 million.

The devolution deal and priorities

The first devolution deal, agreed in 2015, included a £36.5 million a year revenue funding allocation over 30 years to support an investment programme agreed by the member authorities, a multi-year consolidated transport budget, and devolved Adult Education Budget from 2018/19. The deal gave the combined authority planning powers, the ability to franchise bus services and responsibility for the Strategic Road Network as well as a pilot for joint responsibility with the government to co-design employment support for hardest-to-help claimants. It promised a mayoral business rate supplement and business rates retention scheme plus borrowing powers for the combined authority.

The second deal, agreed in 2017, included a Housing Deal and a Skills Deal, £6 million to support a new Mayoral Housing Delivery Task Force, £5 million for a local construction training programme and £250 million from the Transforming Cities Fund to be spent on local transport priorities. The second devolution deal also included ambitions for a new skills advisory panel, the establishment of a high-quality cycle infrastructure across the region, the creation of a digital hub in Birmingham and additional funding to be spent on developing a business case for a Regional Integrated Control Centre.

The key ambitions for the combined authority are summarised below.

Economy

The WMCA aims to deliver more than half a million jobs by 2030 whilst generating an additional £7 billion GVA. The combined authority has been allocated £5 million from the National Retraining Scheme to create The Construction Gateway – a scheme co-designed with employers that aims to find local high-quality jobs for people entering the construction sector. Since delivery started 18 months ago, 1400 people have gone through the Gateway, with 700 moving into employment after completing the course.

Transport

The WMCA aims to ensure the region benefits from an effective transport system that meets the economic and environmental needs of the West Midlands, through transport policy and strategy (including Statutory Transport Plans), delivery of transport schemes and integrated network services, including buses, active travel and park and ride, and extending the Metro network.

The West Midlands is combining the opportunities of 5G, the Future Mobility Zone, High Speed Two (HS2) and the Commonwealth Games, to drive economic growth and create a more connected region. The Government is already working in partnership with the West Midlands through investments including £20 million for the Future Mobility Zone between Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry; and up to £50 million for 5G trials across the West Midlands.

Productivity and skills

Through its devolved Adult Education Budget, WMCA plans to increase the number of qualifications delivered at all levels and develop flexible models of learning to support working adults to upskill and progress in their careers. WMCA also has ambitions to double the number of good-quality apprenticeships by 2030 in the area. The WMCA is promoting the concept of a skills ecosystem for the region which recognises the interdependence of schools, Further Education, Higher Education, Adult and Community Learning and private and voluntary training providers and recognises the need for stronger collaboration with employers to address regional skills needs.

Housing and regeneration

The combined authority has agreed a housing deal worth £250 million to deliver 215,000 new homes by 2031. This means accelerating delivery to nearly 16,000 homes a year compared with the previous average of 10,000 per annum. It is seeking to both attract higher income households to support a knowledge-led economy and make housing more affordable – currently only 10 per cent of affordable housing is being delivered as part of the city and town centre housing schemes.

Public service reform

Another key priority for WMCA is public service reform in order to transform the lives of people in the West Midlands. This programme includes an initial programme of activity supporting people with complex needs, reform of the criminal justice system and action to address the links between employment, skills and mental health.

Environment

The WMCA has set a zero-carbon target for the West Midlands by 2041. It has a 10-point step to achieve its target which includes: keep your car at home schemes; tree planting programme; and West Midlands’ ‘New Green Deal’. The combined authority has adopted a policy framework which incentivises the development and use of environmental technologies, sustainable energy use, waste minimisation and sustainable transport.

Wellbeing

The WMCA has launched an accreditation scheme Thrive at Work to encourage workplaces to promote employee health and wellbeing. It focuses on activities such as attendance management, policies and both mental and physical health. It has focussed in particular on mental health and complex needs, delivering a number of interventions with partners to focus on relationships between vulnerability, wellbeing and work.

Impact

WMCA has attracted significant investment enabling it to fund major transport infrastructure, including new tram and rail lines and key road improvements. This will enable residents to benefit from HS2, whilst also unlocking long-undeveloped pockets of land - crucial to building the 215,000 new homes by 2031. The West Midlands is the first large-scale 5G testbed in the UK. The scale of the combined authority has enabled it to establish new partnerships, including on skills between employers, colleges, other providers and universities. Additional expertise, capacity and resilience has been created for the region’s councils (such as the Inclusive Growth Unit and Office of Data and Analytics). There have been a range of collaborative and cross-boundary projects (such as the Violence Reduction Unit, Town Centres Programme, and Tackling Health Inequalities programme).  The voice of the region has been strengthened and regional recovery priorities agreed.


West Yorkshire Combined Authority

The combined authority

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority was created in April 2014 and became a mayoral combined authority in January 2021. It comprises five councils – Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield – and has a population of 2.3 million. The decision to move to a mayoral model followed a long period of collaboration and discussion between the constituent councils.

The Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, was elected in May 2021. She was previously MP for Batley and Spen.

The Leeds City Region LEP Chair is a voting member of the combined authority, and the City of York is a non-constituent member. The mayor has the functions of the Police and Crime Commissioner and has appointed a Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime to support this role.

Prior to the election of the mayor, council leaders were allocated a number of portfolios including: transport, skills and employment and climate, energy and environment. It has a set of committees, including a transport committee. West Yorkshire Combined Authority is the accountable body for the LEP, the chair of which is a member of the combined authority.

The staffing budget in 2020/21 was around £24 million. The senior staff include a managing director, six directors and 21 heads of service. The LEP is fully embedded in the combined authority.

The devolution deal and priorities

The combined authority agreed a devolution deal worth £1.8 billion with Government in March 2020. This reflected its decision to become a Mayoral Combined Authority and the fact that the additional mayoral functions cover transport (including the possibility of bus franchising), housing and police and crime.

The 2020 deal builds on the City Deal secured in 2012 and the £1 billion Growth Deal in 2014. It includes: £38 million per year allocation of gainshare investment funding over 30 years; a five-year integrated transport settlement starting in 2022/23; £317 million from the Transforming Cities Fund; £101 million Government funding for West Yorkshire flood risk management schemes; and £65 million per annum devolved Adult Education Budget. The deal unlocks a further £3.2 million to support the development of a pipeline of housing sites across West Yorkshire; £75,000 for a West Yorkshire Local Digital Skills Partnership; and £25 million Heritage Fund to support the British Library in establishing a potential “British Library North”.

The combined authority has four key priorities which are summarised below.

Boosting productivity

The combined authority aims to address productivity issues by developing new business support programmes, providing intensive support to businesses to help them grow and attracting global investment to the region to create jobs. In 2015, the combined authority, jointly with the LEP, launched the LEP Growth Service to provide support to businesses to help them become more productive and successful. Closing the productivity gap with the rest of the UK could add £8.5 billion to the value of the West Yorkshire economy, driving up incomes and improving living standards for all.   

To achieve this, in 2020/21 the combined authority:  

  • developed the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Plan to set out an ambitious vision of the region’s future, moving ahead with implementing key aspects by investing £24.5 million from within their own resources and seeking government support to unlock its full potential
  • helped over 3,500 businesses respond to the challenges of the pandemic, with funding, advice or one-to-one business coaching and mentoring from a business professional
  • delivered almost £3.5 million in grants to around 1,500 small businesses to help them improve resilience, adapt products and services to reach new customers and markets and update ICT equipment and software 
  • continued to invest in digital connectivity with the development of a full-fibre infrastructure programme across the region, focusing on hard-to-reach areas so all communities can benefit from high-speed internet access. So far, almost 40,000 properties have been connected 
  • launched the West Yorkshire Local Digital Skills Partnership, a key element of the devolution deal bringing together business, education, communities and charity leaders to improve digital skills across the region 
  • launched Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Service with local employers pledging over £1.3 million to fund local apprenticeship opportunities.

Enabling inclusive growth

The combined authority has an ambition to enable as many people as possible to contribute to and benefit from economic growth. This means making sure everyone is able to engage in training and develop skills, find good and secure jobs and get on in life.

To achieve this, in 2020/21 the combined authority:  

  • agreed long-term ambitions to tackle economic and social disparities across communities by embedding the principles of inclusive growth at the heart of everything they do, so everyone can share the benefits of the recovery  
  • started to develop a ‘good work standard’ for the region, to recognise employers that commit to good employment practices, such as: paying a living wage, offering secure work, and development and progression 
  • continued to keep bus services operating throughout the pandemic to meet the transport needs of local communities 
  • developed lesson plans for use at home during the pandemic through FutureGoals Remote, which has been accessed more than 2,300 times, and worked closely with schools and colleges to support the most disadvantaged young people
  • connected over 1,000 homes and businesses to superfast broadband. 

In addition, the combined authority has been actively seeking ways to support its residents during COVID-19, and has used £13.5 million of funding secured through the devolution deal to help over 10,000 people in the region who have been made redundant or are at risk of redundancy, to obtain new skills and access training or find work, over the next two years. As previously mentioned, the new Local Digital Skills Partnership brings together digital advocates and key leaders from business, education, local communities and the third sector to form a collaborative partnership to support the region’s vision to transform lives through digital tech. The combined authority’s devolved responsibility for the region’s adult education budget enables it to deliver a tailored skills provision to address local needs around skills and to identify future demand.

Delivering 21st Century transport

The combined authority is working with partners to lay the foundations for a clean, efficient transport infrastructure that connects communities, making it easier to get to work, education, do business and connect with each other. The West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund is already delivering significant enhancements to the area’s road, rail and bus networks. The combined authority has invested more than £10.8 million on projects to reduce journey times and improve air quality in Bradford. The £317 million Transforming Cities Fund (TCF) programme aims to reduce reliance on car travel in order to meet the combined authority’s commitment to become a net zero carbon city region by 2038. The ambition is to improve public transport and active travel options for 1.5 million people, of which 41 per cent live in the 20 per cent most deprived communities and to support connectivity to 650 housing and 220 employment sites that have the potential to deliver 45,000 new homes and 1,573 hectare of employment space.

In addition, in 2020/21 the combined authority:

  • worked with bus and rail operators to ensure public transport remains available for critical workers during the pandemic, supporting additional capacity where needed for social distancing and improving real-time travel information to help people travel when services are less busy 
  • capped travel costs for under-19s with Fare Deal for Young People initiative, which guarantees they pay no more than £1.20 for a single bus journey throughout the region under a new simplified single fare structure
  • developed plans for flexible ticketing in response to changing commuter patterns, allowing passengers to buy blocks of tickets to use as they are needed through the combined authority’s MCard Mobile App. 

Tackling the climate emergency

Another key priority for the combined authority is to tackle climate emergence by growing their economy whilst cutting emissions. In 2019 the combined authority declared a climate emergency and set the ambition to become a net zero carbon economy by 2038. The combined authority approved the Leeds City Region Energy Strategy and Delivery Plan (ESDP) and its Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy and Delivery Plan (GBISDP) in December 2018 – this has enabled the City Region to make good progress in tackling the climate emergency without impeding nature recovery.

The Energy Strategy prioritises five key areas that the combined authority, LEP and partners aim to work towards:

  • Resource-efficient businesses and industry: increase support to help companies reduce their energy costs and carbon emissions.
  • New energy generation: develop an energy network that provides locally generated low-cost, low carbon energy to homes and businesses including district heat networks and the landmark H21 hydrogen energy project in Leeds.
  • Energy efficiency and empowering consumers: help households become more energy-efficient, lower their energy bills and reduce fuel poverty.
  • Smart grid systems integration: develop the technology and infrastructure that enables people and businesses to use energy more intelligently.
  • Efficient and integrated transport: target investment and influence transport operators to develop a sustainable transport network, including a greater proportion of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles and increase opportunities for cycling and walking.

Since the ESDP was approved, the combined authority has supported and initiated 30 projects which include the ULEV Taxi Scheme; Leeds PIPES district heat network which will aim to bring low carbon, lower cost heating and hot water to the city of Leeds, while also cutting 22,000 tonnes of carbon emissions every year; Warm Homes programme which will help more than 700 households across the City Region lower their fuel bills and keep their homes warm; and the Energy Accelerator programme which has resulted in 16 low/zero carbon projects receiving free project development support.

Impact

The combined authority is seen as having had a significant impact particularly in relation to attracting investment to the region, playing an influencing role across the wider Yorkshire region and enabling collocation.

Investment secured includes:

  • £38 million gainshare funding per annum over 30 years to be spent locally, which includes £13.5 million invested in skills and employment services – decided locally - to support recovery from COVID-19.
  • £317 million from the Transforming Cities Fund, the largest allocation to any region, to deliver transformational walking and cycling schemes across West Yorkshire and creating jobs. 
  • £67 million funding for new homes on brownfield sites. 

Funding secured through the devolution deal is already thought to be making a difference to the lives of people across West Yorkshire, with the combined authority agreeing to:  

  • Support council partners’ COVID-19 recovery plans with £5 million in emergency funding. 
  • A £13.5 million investment in skills, training, and employment support. 
  • Encourage a new generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders with a package of measures worth at least £6 million. 

Likewise, the combined authority have been able to collaborate more with partners since the devolution deal was agreed. Examples of effective collaboration include the establishment of the digital skills partnership and the bus alliance – which brings together bus operators and stakeholders as it aims to develop action to improve bus services including franchising.


Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (C&PCA) was established in 2017. It comprises seven councils – Peterborough City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council and the five city and district councils in Cambridgeshire: Cambridge, East Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, South Cambridgeshire and Fenland – and has a population of 856,000.

The Mayor, Nik Johnson, was elected in May 2021. He is a paediatrician and was, until election a member of Huntingdonshire District Council. The previous mayor, elected in May 2017, was James Palmer. He was previously a county councillor and leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council.

The LEP has been constituted as a business board to C&PCA to advise the authority on business and the economy and programme delivery. The chair of the C&PCA board is a non-voting member of the LEP. The LEP chair is a voting member of the C&PCA Board together with each of the constituent council members. The Police and Crime Commissioner, the fire authority and Clinical Commissioning Group are non-voting co-opted members of the C&PCA Board.

Under the first mayor C&PCA had various portfolios reflecting the priorities of the organisation, including finance, economic growth, housing and transport, which were held by the mayor and various council leaders. It had five committees including audit & governance, overview and scrutiny, housing and communities and transport and infrastructure and skills. C&PCA is the local transport authority.

C&PCA has also set up three commissions, on climate change, land and the other on public service reform and innovation.

C&PCA is also the accountable body for the eastern region energy hub which has a budget of £70 million for energy efficiency.

The joint salary costs of the C&PCA, the Business Board and the Energy Hub are around £5.5 million.

One example of the impact of C&PCA is the decision to establish a new university in Peterborough. ARU Peterborough is due to open in 2022 with 2,000 students and an ambition of having 12,500 by 2030.


Greater Manchester Combined Authority

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) was the first combined authority when it was established in 2011. It comprises the 10 Greater Manchester councils – Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan – and has a population of 2.8 million. The establishment of the combined authority and its move to the mayoral model in 2017 was the culmination of decades of collaboration through the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities.

The Mayor, Andy Burnham, was elected for a second term in May 2021. He was previously MP for Leigh and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Secretary of State for Health.

The mayor incorporates the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner, and he is responsible for discharging the functions of the former fire authority. He has appointed a deputy mayor, another former minister Baroness Beverley Hughes, to support him in that role. The devolved powers and resources in relation to health and social care are overseen by Greater Manchester Health and Care Partnership which brings together NHS organisations, local government, the voluntary sector and the mayor. The LEP is fully integrated into the combined authority and the combined authority works closely with the AGMA Executive Board. Transport for Greater Manchester reports to the mayor and combined authority.

The combined authority has ten portfolios each of which is the responsibility of a council leader. The portfolios include culture, young people and cohesion, the economy, inequalities, green and low carbon, housing, investment, skills, digital, transport and age-friendly GM. There are statutory committees for overview & scrutiny, audit, standards purposes and the police crime and fire panel. There are a number of bodies which have oversight of the portfolios and delivery of the Greater Manchester Strategy including a health and care joint commissioning board and a waste and recycling committee.

The combined authority is widely seen as the eleventh local authority in the sub - region. There is extensive working with the GM local councils and each chief executive has a policy portfolio for the combined authority.


North of the Tyne Combined Authority

The North of the Tyne Combined Authority (NoTCA) was established in November 2018 with the election of the first, directly elected North of Tyne Mayor taking place in May 2019. It comprises three councils – Newcastle City Council, Northumberland County Council and North Tyneside Council – and has a population of 880,000.

The Mayor, Jamie Driscoll, was elected in May 2019. Prior to his election, he was also Newcastle City councillor.

The North East LEP covers a wider geography. It is a non-voting member of NoTCA and is represented on the board by the LEP Chair. Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, also covers a wider geography and is responsible to a Joint Transport Committee which includes the NoTCA.

The combined authority’s seven portfolios are distributed among the mayor, the council leaders and their deputies. They include: jobs innovation & growth, clean energy & connectivity; skills, education & inclusion; social economy & communities; housing, land & development; culture, creative & rural and investment & resources.

In 2020-21 the combined authority had a staff of 46 and a staffing budget of £1.7 million.


Sheffield City Region Combined Authority

The Sheffield City Region Combined Authority (SCRCA) was established in 2014. It comprises four councils – Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield – and has a population of 1.4 million. To reflect its South Yorkshire geography, the combined authority is in the process of rebranding to have a clearer focus on South Yorkshire.

The mayor, Dan Jarvis, was elected in May 2018. He is also MP for Barnsley Central.

The combined authority also has five non-constituent councils in membership: Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, North East Derbyshire and Derbyshire Dales. The South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive is an executive body of the authority, which is currently in the process of being integrated into the SCRCA who will take on the statutory public transport functions. The LEP has a key advisory role and works closely with the SCRCA.

The combined authority has two statutory committees and four ‘thematic’ boards which cover the thematic areas of Education, Skills and Employability, Business Recovery and Growth, Housing and Infrastructure, and Transport and the Environment.

The staff costs for 2019/20 were £2.3 million.


West of England Combined Authority

The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) was established in 2017. It comprises three councils – Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire – and has a population of 942,000.

Metro Mayor, Dan Norris, who leads the combined authority was elected in May 2021. He was previously MP for Wansdyke and a junior DEFRA minister. The first West of England Mayor, elected in 2017, was Tim Bowles who was previously a councillor in South Gloucestershire.

The chair of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is a non-voting member of the combined authority. Organisationally the LEP is integrated with the combined authority, and the chief executive of the combined authority is also chief executive of the LEP. The LEP, however, covers a larger area than the combined authority and includes North Somerset Council.

The combined authority has five portfolios, including employment and skills and energy. It also has three advisory boards, involving council cabinet members, the mayor and LEP board business members, on skills, business and infrastructure.

There is close working between the combined authority and its constituent councils including regular meetings of mayors and leaders, chief executives, directors and skills and transport leads.