Plans for Kent to strike a devolution deal to help boost regeneration and create jobs have hit an early stumbling block – after the government said only areas willing to have a directly-elected mayor would get a range of new powers.
Kent County Council says its resistance to a mayor is non-negotiable.
However, Dehenna Davison, the minister in charge of devolution in England - who has recently announced her plans to stand aside at the next election - has told KCC leader Roger Gough that those councils who signal support for a mayor will get more clout.
In a letter seen by KentOnline, she writes: “As we set out in the Levelling Up White Paper, the strongest devolution offer will only be available to areas who will put in place a single organisation with a directly elected leader.
“I would also emphasise that the best opportunities to deepen devolution over time are reserved for such areas.”
Her letter continues: “Where areas choose a governance model without a directly elected mayor or leader, they will be only able to negotiate the types of powers and functions as set out in Level 2 of the Devolution Framework.”
That means a devolution deal for Kent could be limited in terms of the additional powers it could be granted.
KCC has set out some early ideas about how a deal could work but they will have to win the government’s support.
In a report, council chiefs said the county council could no longer adopt a position of “wait and see” and that it should open up talks with the government about how devolution could work.
The report made clear that the authority did not want new structures as part of devolutionary powers.
“It should be stated up front that KCC does not consider that it should be necessary for new forms of governance to be created to secure a devolution deal,” it said.
Cllr Gough said at a recent full council meeting that it was important not to get “hung up” on structures but to focus on what the needs of Kent and Medway were.
He said it remained his firm belief that “we need to ensure decisions were made in Kent and by Kent by people who are accountable to Kent”.
The minister’s reply makes clear that the government wants to see devolution extended further across England.
It adds: “As such, I greatly welcome this expression of interest as a first step in achieving a deal for Kent and am pleased to hear that there is a strong appetite for devolution in the region.”