Mansfield mayor: Devolution – additional funding vs local democracy?

Andy Abrahams, Mansfield mayor and Labour group leader, says Mansfield Council is between ‘a rock and a hard place’ in trying to find the right balance.

By Andy Abrahams, Mansfield mayor and Labour group leader
Monday, 21st February 2022, 8:53 am

He writes: A fortnight ago the government launched its much-awaited Levelling Up White Paper, talking about a plethora of potential funding opportunities, which it is my intention to do everything I can to maximise our share to regenerate all parts of Mansfield district.

Mansfield like the majority of Nottinghamshire districts – and indeed the whole of the East Midlands – has suffered from decades of underfunding and so you would think Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire all being considered in the initial applicants for a County Deal would be great news.

Unfortunately, ‘the devil is always in the detail’ and the Government have said you can only get access to additional funding if you agree to have an elected mayor for a combined authority – and district councils will have no voting rights.

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Andy Abrahams, Mansfield mayor.

Furthermore, the upper-tier Nottinghamshire Council can decide to proceed on this path without our agreement.

We stood alongside our district partners in 2020 to fight against the proposal at that time for county control of all the districts via a unitary authority, because we all agreed it would be the start of the end for local democracy.

Quite rightly, we are proud of the way we have looked after our vulnerable communities during Covid, setting up testing and vaccination centres and distributing thousands of pounds to keep businesses afloat.

We were able to do this at speed, because we know the needs of our own communities and businesses and it is only by having locally accountabilty that our residents have a voice.

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However, post-Covid, we agreed to work more closely with all the districts and the county to explore where we could work more effectively together in a partnership of equals.

We had just started to forge some trust and work on our agreed priorities – education and skills, environment, economy, infrastructure,housing, transport and social values – as part of our County Deal proposal when the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper destabilised the partnership; its conditions are contradictory to the principles we all agreed as a pre-condition of us working collaboratively together.

These principles include democratic accountability, subsidiarity – decisions taken as close as possible to the benefit of local people and communities and inclusive membership of all local councils.

Partnerships can only be built on trust so the government must start with actions, instead of all their promises, by announcing the date for the second round of the levelling up fund now.

Then we can get on with our town centre masterplan, funding for the extension of the Robin Hood Line to open up investments opportunities in the north of the county and accelerate the programme to electrify the Midland Main Line to Mansfield to increase our connectivity.

Only then will we really see a transformational change for our town.

Forcing communities to have a regionally elected mayor of a combined authority, without any voting rights to enable them, as the only route to gain funding is not the best advert for local democracy and building partnerships.

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