Leaders in Leicestershire have expressed anger at the region being excluded from a first of its kind devolution deal for the east Midlands, saying it will be “relegated to the second division”.
On Tuesday, plans for a groundbreaking devolution deal between Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire were announced, which would see the areas grouped as a Mayoral Combined County Authority (MCCA), led by one mayor, and which would receive £1.14bn funding over 30 years.
The plans are part of a new devolution model that would be introduced once the levelling up and regeneration bill is passed, and it is hoped the first mayoral elections in the region would take place in May 2024.
But some said the exclusion of Leicestershire and Leicester, the most populous urban area in the east Midlands, situated about 30 miles south of Nottingham and Derby, would harm the region in the long term.
Phil King, Conservative leader of Harborough district council in Leicestershire, said he was “frustrated” the region would miss out on the funding, which amounts to about £18 a head of the population.
“I compare it to being relegated and consigned to playing in division two,” he said. “The focus is now going to be very much on this Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area for investors and stakeholders, and any programmes the government may be looking at.
“What are we going to be? We’re going to be here but we’re not going to benefit from anything.”
Leicestershire’s county council leader, Nick Rushton, has also previously said the county would be “waiting at the back of the pack” for a non-mayoral devolution deal which is “only slightly better than nothing”.
After this week’s announcement, a spokesperson for the council said “the people and businesses of Leicestershire stand to be penalised” and it is “simply wrong” to portray the deal as one for the east Midlands.
“It certainly isn’t a deal to match the West Midlands,” the spokesperson said, adding the county council is open to working with the government, but under current rules it cannot do so without the cooperation of the city council.
King criticised the Leicester city council mayor, Peter Soulsby, who is one of only a handful of directly elected city council mayors in the country, for his opposition to the deal.
Soulsby previously told LeicesterLive: “Why on earth would we want another mayor across the whole of the county? To have somehow a leader of the county council, a mayor at the council in Leicester and then something else over the top of it will cost money and there’s no good reason for it or any obvious benefits from it.
“We can work perfectly well together without having somebody else hold the reins.”
Centre for Cities, a nonpartisan thinktank for promoting economic growth, was also critical of the deal, saying that merging two separate geographical areas under one mayor would hamper levelling up in the area.
“We think this is a mistake. There is very little commuting between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, they are two different counties with distinct local economic needs,” said senior analyst Anthony Breach.
“Having one person who is responsible for both means they are always going to be balancing between the two rather than doing what’s best for their own local economy.”
Separate devolution deals for the three areas would work better, he said, adding the proposed deal “violates previous principles the government has established on devolution and will make it harder to deliver other aspects of levelling up”.
But many business leaders in the east Midlands welcomed the announcement, saying it would help boost the local economy and strengthen the region’s image.
“It has been a long time coming. We’ve seen the impact that having similar structure elsewhere in the country, such as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, can have on attracting investments and decisions, and we think that will help us get more of that,” said Chris Hobson, director of policy and external affairs at the East Midlands Chamber.
“When it comes to government having a discussion with our area about what we want to see, there’s no obvious person to talk to. Having a mayor for the east Midlands would change that.”
Leicester city council was approached for comment.