The devolution agreement of the English regions is in danger, representatives warn

MPs have warned that the UK government’s flagship bid to end the regional divide, including a new mayoralty in the East Midlands, is at risk due to legislative delays.

The equalization and regeneration bill supports a series of objectives aimed at restoring economic balance, which were formulated in the government’s white paper published last year.

But the legislative delay prompted 10 East Midlands Conservative MPs to write to Premier Rishi Sunak urging the bill to be “fast-tracked”, describing it as a “critical national issue”.

From May 2024, the devolution deal should provide new powers and spending for a newly created amalgamated authority of four local councils overseen by a mayor, but this will depend on whether an equalization bill is passed in time.

“This must happen urgently, before the summer,” the representatives said in their letter sent out on Wednesday, warning that otherwise “we will lose the opportunity to make tangible, real benefits” before the next elections.

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They added that areas such as Greater Manchester, which already had mayors, would be “accelerated further apart”, increasing regional divides.

Promoting devolution in England is a key element of the equalization programme. But the bill underpinning many of the government’s rebalancing aims – including the creation of a new mayoral institution in the East Midlands – has been complicated by a number of amendments.

It is also racing for time with complex and controversial legislation, such as the EU Remain Bill, which aimed to remove all remaining Brussels legislation from UK law by the end of 2023.

Adam Hawksbee, deputy director of right-wing think tank Onward, said the government “really needs to show that levels are going up”.

“But if this bill stalls in the Lords, this progress could be stalled and the date of the East Midlands mayoral election could be pushed back. Ministers must therefore prioritize the legislation, work through all amendments and receive royal assent before the end of the parliamentary session,” he said.

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Secretary Michael Gove’s team admitted there was a risk the bill could be delayed beyond the summer as it takes time to pass the House of Lords.

But an official at the Department for Equalisation, Housing and Communities said it was unclear whether it would jeopardize the government’s devolution timetable and ministers remained hopeful of finalizing the bill later this parliamentary session.

The government said: “As Chancellor, the Prime Minister pioneered new freeports to support regeneration across the country and created the Treasury’s Economic Campus in Darlington.”

“We remain committed to directing investment to the areas that need it most, bringing the Levels Up and Regeneration Bill to Parliament and working with local leaders through devolution deals in the East Midlands and deals in other areas that need it.”