‘Trailblazer’ devolution deals to be relit
The Government has restated its commitment to agree “trailblazer” devolution deals with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands that will see more powers devolved in areas including skills, transport and housing.
The proposed extended deals came out of the Levelling-up white paper by Michael Gove who was then, and under Rishi Sunak is now again, the Levelling-up secretary.
However the five-month hiatus, and the wider political uncertainty, had hindered progress.
Deals are expected to be agreed by early next year with metro-mayors Andy Burnham and Andy Street which would then provide a blueprint for other areas to follow.
Devolution appears to be back on the Government’s agenda as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced new deals for Suffolk and Norfolk and “an area in the North East”.
Hunt said: “We are making progress towards trailblazer devolution deals with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and West Midlands Combined Authority, and soon over half of England will be covered by devolution deals taken together.
The Government is also discussing with the two Combined Authorities about “the potential to provide single departmental-style settlements at the next Spending Review”, with the aim of moving away from competitive bidding processes.
Investment zones were a key part of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s levelling-up plans, but Sunak and Hunt have decided to “refocus” the programme.
There had been plans for up to 40 investment zones and local authorities had put in rushed bids, but Hunt confirmed they will now be binned.
Instead the investment zones strategy will be “a limited number of the highest potential knowledge-intensive growth clusters”.
Hunt said the investment zones will “now focus on leveraging our research strengths by being centred on universities in left-behind areas to help build clusters for our new growth industries”.
The first clusters will be announced “in the coming months” after consultation with devolved, mayoral and local authorities.
The Autumn Statement also included an extension to an existing programme to help SME manufacturing firms to boost productivity. The Government will extend the Made Smarter Adoption programme to the East Midlands, which connects tech with manufacturing to create solutions to operational challenges.
This follows on from the feedback the programme received in the North East, West Midlands, North West, Yorkshire & the Humber.
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