Ashby councillor says Leicestershire Mayor is needed if county is to get billion pound Government funding boost

By Graham Hill

8th Oct 2021 | Local News

A Leicestershire mayor may have to be elected to improve the county's chances of winning a billion pounds worth of Government funding bid, according to an Ashby councillor.

At a full council meeting this week, Council Leader Nick Rushton set out Leicestershire County Council's bid for the Government's 'County Deal'.

This would be a pot of money awarded by Westminster to the council as part of the 'levelling up' agenda which would then be distributed across the districts.

The current bid is for £25 million each year for 30 years.

There is also a bid for a further £50 million each year for five years to be used to support local plans throughout the county.

But the Leader advised the council that, if they wanted to be in the first wave of funding, they would need to elect a single figurehead responsible for overseeing the funding.

He said: "If we want to be in the first wave, if we want to tick every box, if we want to do the best for Leicestershire, I was advised that we should offer up a directly elected mayor for Leicestershire."

He added there could be discussion about what exactly the mayoral role would entail, but ultimately it was a necessary, if unpopular, step.

"I imagine it would be up for negotiation as to how he runs his mayoral service. It's all up for negotiation. Do you want to call him a mayor or do you want to call him a governor?" he continued.

"You can call him what you like but it's a directly elected person that we need to tick all the boxes, to get it through the door and that is why I was willing to swallow it."

Cllr Rushton said this funding would allow Leicestershire 'greater freedom and opportunities to deliver its own local priorities, such as being able to fund infrastructure to support development, drive economic growth, skills and prosperity, and taking effective action on climate change and carbon reduction.'

This comes following the council's revelation that it will likely need to borrow around £166 million to meet its expenses between now and 2025.

If the council decides to go ahead with a mayoral election, Cllr Rushton suggested each of the main parties would pick a candidate to put forward for the position.

The funding scheme was met with a mixed response from the opposition parties.

Michael Mullaney, Lib Dem councillor for the De Montford division, said: "Our Lib Dem group position has always been that Leicestershire is unfairly treated and gets a raw deal from the Government, not only in terms of being the worst funded county council in the country, but also in terms of the police, fire, education and other services being funded below the national average.

"Therefore, any scheme that brings additional funding into the county is something that we would welcome and if it does bring improvements to transport and other infrastructure then we would welcome that as well.

"In terms of reservations to the plans, as a group we don't support elected mayors so that is something we would have a reservation about.

"Also I notice there is an option of a business rate supplement of 2% being charged to businesses as a potential charge which is again a concern at this time. As we emerge from Covid, it's a difficult time for businesses."

Labour councillor for the Loughborough North West division, Max Hunt, said: "Labour group don't think much of this deal. It's not devolution, it's simply taking taxpayers money, hopefully a bit more of the taxpayer's money than we've had in the past, and putting it in the hands of one person with added cost of running that office. It removes some decision making from the districts, particularly at local plan level.

"But I do understand that the administration has to put in a bid, has to take the opportunity of getting more money for Leicestershire if we can."

Cllr Rushton added the plans were not intended as an attempt to create a unitary authority or take power from the districts.

He said: "Let me be clear, this is not local government reorganisation by the back door, it isn't a bid for a unitary and it is certainly not a "county takeover" of existing local government services."

No decision on progressing a mayor scheme for Leicestershire has yet been taken.

The council is expecting to find out whether they will be in the first wave of funding in the next couple of months.

There are no proposals yet on how any money will be divided between districts, should the applications be successful.

     

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