A relatively quiet recess period was interrupted yesterday, as The Times reported that Theresa May was set ‘to ditch’ a key tranche of the government’s Devolution policy. Speaking to The Times, an inside source purportedly claimed that the new Prime Minister has doubts over George Osborne’s policy of directly elected mayors for city regions, which she feels would provide Labour moderates with “a platform for a revival in its heartlands”. The idea of having one elected Mayor accountable for the extra funding and powers transferred from central government could therefore be consigned to the policy bin.
Although the timing was unexpected, that Theresa May is considering discarding one of George Osborne’s most treasured initiatives will have come as no surprise given the recent question marks placed over Hinckley Point and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. The story produced an inevitable backlash from prospective Mayoral candidates such as Andy Burnham who branded the U-turn “betrayal of people and communities”. Yet expressions of support for the government’s U-Turn from the Leaders of Leeds City, West Yorkshire and North Somerset Councils reflects a position shared by many UK local authorities, for whom the elected Mayors policy represents a necessary evil to be accepted in order to secure the promised transfer of powers and funding packages included in the government’s overall Devolution package.
The Whitehall and government machines kicked into gear this morning, with denials issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government and one of the principle architects of the Devolution policy, Lord Michael Heseltine. However, for a property industry contending with the initial post-Brexit fall-out, the rekindling of a debate on the nature of the government’s Devolution agenda provides little certainty on the future of local government decision-making.