The Government is pushing forward with structural reforms to establishing and managing combined authorities and their major transport responsibilities.
Launching a second consultation on the issue this week, ministers highlighted a largely positive response to the last year’s consultation on the reforms, which include allowing county councils to delegate transport powers to combined authorities and helping councils without direct borders to join together.
Primary legislation would be changed to allow councils with non-contiguous boundaries or those in a “doughnut” shape to join or form combined authorities or economic prosperity boards under the plans.
This change would be made through secondary legislation in the form of a Legislative Reform Order – and would still require the councils to satisfy the following additional safeguarding requirements:
a. in the opinion of the councils concerned (at the governance review stage) the proposed area would be an appropriate functional economic area, over which collaboration on the body’s functions would promote economic growth in the area;
b. in the Secretary of State’s opinion the proposed area would be an appropriate functional economic area, over which collaboration on the body’s functions would promote economic growth in the area; and
c. the Secretary of State must have regard to the likely effect of the creation of the combined authority or economic prosperity board on surrounding areas
Of the 50 respondents to this issue in the previous consultation 80% agreed with the plans.
Ministers also hope to provide more flexibility to county councils allowing them to delegate or share transport functions with a combined authority for part of their area when a second tier council in a county council area wishes to join a combined authority.
Respondents were largely in favour of this reform with 79% in support, however local authorities were less supportive than others with roughly 66% in favour, compared to 86% of other respondents.
The Department for Communities and Local Government also proposes to simplify the administrative processes involved in making changes to an existing combined authority or economic prosperity board.
Currently councils must go through the same process for functional changes as is required when forming a new combined authority or economic prosperity board. Under the reforms all councils concerned would simply have to consent to the proposed changes before an application to make the changes is made to the secretary of state.
The secretary of state’s duty to undertake a statutory consultation and parliamentary approval will be retained. The large majority of respondents were in favour of this change.
A second consultation was required by statutory duty as the changes are being made through secondary legislation under a Legislative Reform Order - a draft of which is included in the consultation document - to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.
This does not apply to the Government’s plans to legislate to require combined authorities and economic prosperity boards to establish overview and scrutiny committees, which are also outlined in the consultation.
This consultation will close at 5pm on Monday 26 January 2015.