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Opponents challenge Derbyshire council’s funding withdrawal for new ‘regeneration’ board

Opposition councillors have criticised and challenged Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet decision to withdraw funding and its host role from a new partnership board linked to the East Midlands Combined County Authority.

County council leader Barry Lewis, of the Conservative-led council, was the Chairperson of the Vision Derbyshire and D2 Economic Prosperity committees before they were dissolved to form the Derby and Derbyshire Strategic Leadership Board to allow Derbyshire county, district and borough councils a shared, greater say in the new Labour-led EMCCA.

However, the county council’s Cabinet response to withdraw its funding and its role as the SLB’s host following Labour-led NE Derbyshire District Council Leader Nigel Barker’s appointment as the SLB’s new chairperson has led opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat county councillors to challenge and ‘call in’ the decision to go before a scrutiny committee.   

Labour Group Leader, Cllr Joan Dixon, said: “I am highly disappointed with Cllr Lewis’s actions and the subsequent decision by the Cabinet.   

“The Strategic Leadership Board brings all of the councils in Derbyshire around the table to work together and is the body which feeds into the [EMCCA} Mayoral Combined Authority to bring investment into Derbyshire for regeneration, skills, housing and a greener environment.   

“The county council, with its responsibility for strategic economic development, is best placed to support all the districts and boroughs and to ensure a steady pipeline of regeneration projects is fed into the Mayoralty.”  

During the decisive Cabinet meeting, on June 13, the council leader, Cllr Barry Lewis, dismissed an accusation that he had thrown his ‘toys out of the pram’ after he indicated at the last SLB meeting that the council was set to withdraw funding and its role as host of the new partnership board when he learned he had missed out on the role of chairperson.  

Cllr Lewis had told the meeting: “Everyone in the room is aware of the circumstances of what happened at the last Strategic Leadership Board meeting and this apparently [happened] when I threw my toys out of the pram but to be fair it’s a county council-run board and it has been for some years.”  

He added: “We put in a considerable amount of resources and we put in a considerable amount of work with the districts and boroughs. If the districts and boroughs wish to run it that is fine and they have that prerogative and they exercised that and it’s only fair they pay.”  

Cllr Lewis told councillors at the SLB meeting in May that the county council will have a good working relationship with the new EMCCA Mayor Claire Ward but he did not think others had operated in a very professional manner.  

But Labour-led Amber Valley Borough Council Leader, Cllr Chris Emmas-Williams, also said at the SLB meeting that he could not believe ‘people are just chucking their teddies out of the pram’ and that he had been ‘really appalled’ about the situation.  

Derbyshire County Council has stated that it still aims to continue working with the SLB to meet priorities such as business, economy and ‘place’ and it will consult with the SLB on matters relating to EMCCA where required as an EMCCA member and it still feels it may be able to consider making funding available in the future to support a strategic partnership working with EMCCA.  

The council leader pointed out Derbyshire County Council’s key role in the former Vision Derbyshire and D2 Economic Prosperity committees and acknowledged the importance of the new joint SLB committee’s aim is to work with EMCCA and help provide a mechanism for the involvement of district and borough councils.  

However, a council report also stated there is no longer an advantage or value for money for the county council in absorbing the management overhead of being the host authority or in being the only member council to commit new funding of up to a maximum allocation of £175,000.  

It added that the change in the appointment of Cllr Barker as partnership chairperson signals the intention of district and borough councils to assume control of the agenda and provide new leadership and direction for the board so the county council intends to keep its overall, ongoing membership under review.  

Subsequently, the county council’s Cabinet agreed to withdraw the council’s previously agreed role as Host Authority, and that £156,324 of funding which had been returned to the council following the dissolution of the Vision Derbyshire Joint Committee will not now be allocated to the SLB.  

Disappointed opposition county councillors including Labour Group Leader, Cllr Dixon, and Labour Deputy Leader, Cllr Ruth George, Liberal Democrat Leader, Cllr Ed Fordham, and Liberal Democrat, Cllr Sue Burfoot, have now ‘called-in’ the Cabinet decision to be examined at a council Resources Improvement and Scrutiny Committee meeting hoping it can eventually be reconsidered by the Cabinet.  

They have argued there has been a breach of ‘due regard’, ‘due consultation’, and that the decision was made in a ‘fit of pique’ and that there is no evidence to support assertions that the district and borough councils have assumed control of the agenda.  

Councillors will have a chance to question Cllr Lewis about the Cabinet decision at the scrutiny committee meeting but a date for the meeting has not yet been set.

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire county councils and Derby and Nottingham city councils have already backed what is hoped to be a multi-billion pound money-spinning devolution deal with the launch of the new East Midlands Combined County Authority.

EMCCA is expected to oversee more than two billion pounds of annual funding directly from Central Government over the next thirty years with the new devolution deal seen as part of the Government’s Levelling Up plans to attract better funding and investment across the country.

Cllr Dixon said: “There’s £1.5 billion funding available at stake here. That’s why today four opposition councillors have signed the ‘call-in’ and are challenging this decision. It was reckless and the people of Derbyshire will be the losers.  

“My district, city and borough colleagues and I will be working with Mayor Claire Ward to ensure Derbyshire gets the investment it so desperately needs.  

“That’s why the first thing a new Labour county council will do after next year’s council elections is to reverse this decision.    

“Furthermore, I will not be throwing my teddy out [of] the cot if I am not Chair. Indeed, I won’t even seek to be Chair as I believe in a more collegiate approach.”  

The SLB was to be funded by the county council with its share of business rates along with business rates from the districts, county and city councils with the city and county making a proportionally larger contribution.  

It has been told it will need to reassess how it would fund itself going forward – after the county council’s decision – with other councils potentially having to contribute more money.

 

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