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The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL] received its first reading in the House of Lords on 28 May 2015 and is scheduled to receive its second reading on 8 June 2015. The Bill is intended to support the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to “devolve powers and budgets to boost local growth in England”. The Bill would provide the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with a series of order and regulation making powers, allowing for the devolution of functions currently owned by central government and local public bodies. It is intended as the means of delivering local “devolution deals”, agreed between combined authorities and central government, such as the Greater Manchester Agreement.

These proposals for constitutional reform also form part of the Government’s strategy for the creation of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, to enable cities in the north of England to work more closely together on policy areas such as transport, housing, strategic planning, health, social care and skills training, and to compete more effectively with London in terms of economies of scale and access to human capital.

The Bill would amend the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 and enable combined authorities to have an elected mayor. These elected mayors would take on powers agreed with central government, and established in the relevant order from the Secretary of State. These mayoral functions could include taking on the role of a Police and Crime Commissioner. The Bill would also enable the remit of combined authorities to be expanded. Combined authorities would be required to establish overview and scrutiny committees under the Bill.

Although the Government has said that its preferred model for accountability as part of the new devolution deals would be for the creation of a mayoral combined authority, it has stated that this may not be appropriate in all contexts, such as for areas outside cities. The Bill also includes measures to enable changes to be made to the role and the powers of local authorities in England where the Government agrees that it may not be appropriate to establish a combined authority.

Prior to the publication of the Bill, there had been criticism from some representatives of local government that the Government was exclusively focusing on devolution for cities. The inclusion of local government as well as cities in the remit of the Bill was broadly welcomed by local authorities. During the debate on the Queen’s Speech on 1 and 2 June 2015, there was support in the House of Lords for the aims of the Bill with regards to the devolution of more power to cities and local authorities. However, some Members raised concerns about how these proposals might be implemented. The House of Commons debated the Government’s devolution agenda on 3 June 2015, during which a motion criticising the Government’s approach to devolution was defeated.

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