Agenda item

Agenda item

Scrutiny Report: Devolution Plans for Oxfordshire

Report of the Scrutiny Devolution Review Group


Report to follow.


Cllr Tidball, Chair of the Scrutiny Devolution Review Group presented the report. She explained the task of the review group and outlined the methodology and findings of the group.  She explained that devolution was important to local government as the UK is the most centralised county in the world and devolution deals bring some of that power to the local level. Achieving a deal could release significant government money to the county but the timeframe to agree a deal is small.


The government has specified the need for an elected mayor to provide strong accountable governance. The review group’s preferred model is to keep the current Oxfordshire councils but to also have a mayoral combined authority, which would be responsible for the additional powers and money released from government.


She thanked the Scrutiny Officer and the Assistant Chief Executive for their hard work.



Cllr Tidball listed the benefits of securing a devolution deal, these included simplifying transportation infrastructure, building a new relationship with government and creating an employer led skills model.

She explained that the secured Cambridge-Peterborough devolution deal included significant money for social housing.


Recommendation 9 of the report suggests how the governance of a combined authority could work, including details of decision-making/voting and the ability of the combined authority to overrule a mayor. It is also recommends devolving from the combined authority to the county and district councils the power to discharge functions where appropriate.


The report discusses possible local government re-organisation in Oxfordshire and outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the different models in Appendix 2. It is recommended this list be used to build consensus between Oxfordshire authorities.


A mayor would provide strong accountable decision making and could speed up decision-making by removing loggerheads.


She explained that the City is an economic hub in the county and the demographic makeup of the city needs to be shown in the decision making structure of either re-organisation model


Cllr Price thanked Cllr Tidball, Cllr Gant, and the Scrutiny Officer for the report.


The Assistant Chief Executive updated the board on the progress made in drafting a devolution deal. She explained that the Review Group’s report had been very helpful to assist the decision making of the working group (made up of representatives from all Oxfordshire local authorities and LEP).


Following on from CEB agreeing the Statement of intent, to support a devolution deal with a combined authority in December, the working group has been revising its proposal. It has three objectives:

1.Housing, planning , infrastructure and transport - and has updated details on how devolved money would work for these

2.Skills; and

3. Governance arrangements – to review the government’s requirements needed to secure a devolution deal, and learn from authorities that have secured deals in the last year.

The County Council launched its one council model today. It is out for public consultation until 14 March. The working group need to make sure work is progressed before the County considers their one council proposal.


The Assistant Chief Executive will update the Growth Board at the end of month.


Cllr Tanner asked what the likelihood of either proposal going ahead was. Cllr Price said that the message from the autumn statement was that government had two priorities, housing and economic growth. Devolution is seen as a way of achieving both of these. The government is pressing ahead to agree further devolution deals in Cambridgeshire, and Teeside, which suggests that devolution is the mechanism they wish to use.


The County Council’s refusal to accept that there is not a consensus on re-organisation risks working against the combined authority proposal. The combined authority might fall at the democratic fence if authorities don’t agree to take part.


Councillor Hollingsworth noted the emphasis on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor and questioned whether the Review Group had considered the possibility of a devolution deal based on a wider geographical footprint (e.g. including parts of Buckinghamshire), given that the county borders broadly date back to Saxon times.


Cllr Tidball said that the Group had considered this but felt that Oxfordshire could be identified as being city region (covered by one LEP) and that a wider geography would be too unwieldy and risk diluting democratic accountability.  However, an Oxfordshire combined authority would provide a mechanism for joint working with other combined authority areas (e.g. the West Midlands) in the form of joint committees covering a wider geography.



Cllr Gant said that the review group had considered different models of re-organisation. The report didn’t rule out re-organisation, but outlined concerns in terms of strong accountable governance, and high quality service delivery with all unitary models.


Cllr Tidball said that any net savings of re-organisation would need to be reconsidered in light of changes to the financial settlement and business rate retention,  and a unitary authority’s ability to generate revenue and efficiencies


Cllr Brown said the opportunity of securing a devolution deal is very important. Having it held out to us and not trying to grasp it is wrong. Oxfordshire’s economy will suffer if we don’t secure a deal and we need to do everything we can to secure one.


The Assistant Chief Executive explained the report had been circulated to all Oxfordshire councils and the working group. She said she would send it to the media as well.


The Review Group’s work on governance structures and the tests involved are very helpful in assisting how a combined authority could operate.


Cllr Price said that getting a devolution deal is only the beginning. Cambridge and Peterborough are already onto their second round of devolution which included social care. There is danger that people around the table might not want the deal to work.


Cllr Rowley said the Council’s short to medium term priority must be to gain the benefits of devolution.


Cllr Brown said it was important the Council reached out to our partners, the LEP and key businesses in Oxfordshire and explain to them the benefits of our proposal and why the County Council’s unitary option isn’t the best. We must work collaboratively with the other district councils to spread the message that a ‘no mayor deal’ won’t work and by pursuing it the County risks derailing the combined authority devolution bid.


The Assistant Chief Executive said that ultimately the decision maker is government.



The City Executive Board agreed all the recommendations listed in the Devolution Review Group report.



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