North Somerset rejects £1bn devolution deal

North Somerset Council has voted to reject a £1bn devolution deal that would have created a combined authority and metro mayor for the West of England.

The proposed deal, which was announced by Chancellor George Osborne in the Budget, would see an elected mayor take on responsibilities including a multi-year transport budget, strategic planning and £30m a year in funding for adult education.

Cllr Nigel Ashton, leader of North Somerset, said the devolution of resources from central government is attractive in principle, but "not at any cost" and the council cannot support the "costly and bureaucratic" imposition of an extra layer of government in the form of a combined authority and mayor.  

Along with North Somerset, the deal covers Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils, as well as the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership.

North Somerset's rejection of the plan comes after councillors at Bath & North East Somerset asked their leader to renegotiate the deal to remove the requirement for an elected mayor.

"I believe strongly, and this view has been supported by my fellow councillors, that we shouldn't accept the deal offered in March," Cllr Ashton said.

"We have worked hard with our fellow West of England partners to get the best available deal for the area, but too much remains that we are not prepared to support.

"We have a great track record of successful joint working across the region and we can continue this without the additional costly and bureaucratic layer of decision-making that a combined authority and metro mayor would bring. Prior to the council's decision, we asked our town and parish councils and local residents to give us their views on the proposed deal and the vast majority have expressed a similar view, and do not want an additional level of government or metro mayor."

Cllr Ashton said he will be asking Bristol's elected mayor Marvin Rees and the leaders of Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire to join together in a push for a "better deal" from Whitehall.

"We remain committed to continued joint working with our neighbouring councils and with their support, we will unite in going back to Government to secure delivery of a deal that reflects the needs of the West of England," he added.

The other three councils in the West of England are due to decide on whether or not to accept the deal on 29 June.