Combined authorities and new transport bodies should be given greater access to flexible financing streams, engineers have said, as they laid out proposals for a revamped model of devolution.
In a new report, ‘State of the Nation: Devolution 2016’, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) set out a 10-point plan of ‘improvements to the current arrangements’.
The report pointed out that the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 precludes sub-national transport bodies from borrowing, which means they may need their constituent authorities do so on their behalf.
It said combined authorities and sub-national transport bodies should have full access to prudential financing, with the ‘flexibility to raise finance by the method most suitable to their circumstances’.
Adrian Coy, ICE vice president and chair of the steering group that produced the report, said: ‘We would like to see the restrictions on combined authorities accessing additional financing streams lifted, so they can invest in infrastructure – and skills – that can really transform a region. While combined authorities have the will and powers, their financial means are currently limited.’
The ICE also said regional pipelines setting out confirmed infrastructure projects should be developed, ‘enabling government, authorities, industry and academia to invest in the right training in the local area’.
Reflecting recent concerns that aspects of the devolution process have been too vague, the ICE said it was unclear what assistance prospective combined authorities were given in compiling their submissions.
It highlighted a lack of clarity over which policy areas were for negotiation and where there were ‘red lines’.
The ICE recommended that in future Government should provide pre-submission advice to achieve higher quality devolution proposals that deliver effective outcomes.
Mr Coy added the ICE would also like to see more rounded and integrated devolution proposals, setting out how they will achieve environmental and social goals, in addition to driving economic growth. He argued that enriching people’s lives means increasing the quality of their living environments, as well as their incomes.
The ICE's 10 recommendations:
1. All future devolution proposals should demonstrate how they will improve quality of life and environmental sustainability in addition to driving economic growth
2. Authorities seeking a devolution deal should demonstrate a clear model for leadership and accountability; however models to achieve this should reflect each area’s unique identity
3. Restrictions stopping combined authorities from accessing flexible private finance streams must be lifted if they are to deliver and maintain transformative infrastructure
4. Future devolution deals must include funding for digital infrastructure so smart technologies which improve services for the public and the environment can be developed
5. Infrastructure strategies should be developed for emerging economic areas in England setting out needs, to provide a framework for decision-making
6. Similar approaches to identify strategic needs should be developed for London, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland
7. Infrastructure strategies must have resilience at their heart – considering the interdependent nature of each areas networks and mitigating the knock-on failure which can occur during extreme weather, affecting local businesses and economies
8. Regional pipelines setting out confirmed infrastructure projects should be developed, enabling government, authorities, industry and academia to invest in the right training in the local area
9. Combined authorities should be given responsibility for the skills development of those aged 16-19 - in addition to those aged 19 plus - to create a more joined up approach
10. Government should provide pre-submission advice - to ensure high quality devolution proposals that deliver effective outcomes for the country