Features of Greater Essex Combined Authority devolution deal unveiled

The emerging Greater Essex devolution deal text has largely been agreed upon and is in its final draft, it has been revealed.

Essex County Council says it will know whether it can proceed with the deal, subject to public consultation, by the end of the year. The aim remains to conclude the consultation and allow a final decision to be put to leaders before the local election scheduled for May 2025.

As well as the elements for a level two deal around skills, transport, inward investment and net zero, the deal also accommodates the new Local Visitor Economy Partnership (LVEP) and a health improvement duty and £20m of new capital investment.

Under the Level 2 deal, there would be a new Greater Essex Combined Authority (CCA). This would mean the three authorities of Essex County Council, Thurrock and Southend will make collective decisions about the power and budget given to them by the Government.

Essex County Council, Southend-on-Sea City Council and Thurrock Council will not merge under the deal. Each authority would remain independent. There would be no changes to any of the existing district, borough and city local authority structures but they would have a voice under the combined authority.

Under governance arrangements, there will be two members and votes for Essex County Council and one each for Southend and Thurrock. There will also be two non-voting representatives from north Essex councils and one non-voting representative from south Essex councils. The police fire and crime commissioner may also have a vote.

The deal would not establish a directly elected mayor for Greater Essex. The Greater Essex Combined Authority would include the former role of the Local Enterprise Partnership. This follows the Government’s previous decision to disband them.

Essex County Council has said the emerging deal is likely to be most similar to the level 2 deal negotiated for Lancashire.

Key features of the deal for Lancashire, signed last month, include the formation of the Lancashire Combined County Authority and the integration of the Lancashire local enterprise partnership into the CCA.

It provides devolved powers to shape local skills provisions, including adult education functions and budget

Importantly it offers new powers to improve and better integrate local transport, including the ability to introduce bus franchising.

It also offers new powers to utilise compulsory purchase to drive area-based regeneration and build more affordable homes and provides up to £20 million of capital funding.

A statement as part of an update to Essex county councillors said: “We have begun working up the structure for the next phase of the work programme which, alongside delivery of the public consultation, will be focussed on the design and set up of the new combined authority.

“A high-level timeline is being developed that would include having proposals for the CCA design, including clarity about ongoing running costs, so that this information can be incorporated into any final decision on the deal.

It is our intention to ensure that the design work is as collaborative as possible, engaging fully with city, district, and borough councils as we have done throughout the process.

“We will need to work through the synergies and links with south and north Essex councils, as well as the transition of LEP functions (which will happen regardless of devolution).

“We need to anchor this in a clear vision of where we want to be by April 2025, and focus energy on driving growth and productivity not just internal process as we risk being left behind and unprepared for a post-general election spending review.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter