A combined authority is a type of local government institution introduced in England outside Greater London by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. Combined authorities are created voluntarily and allow a group of local authorities to pool appropriate responsibility and receive certain delegated functions from central government in order to deliver transport and economic policy more effectively over a wider area.
Combined authorities are created in areas where they are considered likely to improve transport, economic development and regeneration. There are currently ten such authorities, with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority established on 1 April 2011, four others established in April 2014, two in 2016, two more in 2017 and one in 2018.
Following the abolition of metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council in 1986, England had no local government bodies with strategic authority over the major urban areas of the country. In 1999, following a successful referendum, the Labour government created a strategic authority for London (the Greater London Authority), but no bodies were established to replace the metropolitan county councils outside London. The Blair government instead pursued the idea of elected Regional Assemblies, although following an unsuccessful referendum in 2004 in the most positive region – the North East – this idea had few proponents.
In October 2010 the Coalition Government introduced measures to replace Regional Development Agencies, which were described as inefficient and costly. They were replaced with local enterprise partnerships, voluntary groups with membership drawn from the private sector with local authority input.
Earlier in 2010 the Government accepted a proposal from the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities to establish a Greater Manchester Combined Authority as an indirectly elected top-tier strategic authority for Greater Manchester.
Following the unsuccessful English mayoral referendums in 2012, combined authorities have been used as an alternative means to grant additional powers and funding as part of 'city deals'. In 2014, indirectly elected combined authorities were established covering the ceremonial county areas of South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, and two combined authorities were established which each covered a metropolitan county and adjacent non-metropolitan districts: the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority for Merseyside and the Borough of Halton unitary authority, and the North East Combined Authority for Tyne and Wear and the unitary authorities of County Durham and Northumberland.
In 2016 a combined authority was formed for the metropolitan county of the West Midlands; as a consequence, all former metropolitan counties are now covered by combined authorities. The first combined authority that does not cover a metropolitan county was Tees Valley, formed in 2016. It covers the area of the former county of Cleveland (now four unitary authorities in the ceremonial counties of Durham and North Yorkshire), together with the unitary authority of Darlington. Two further combined authorities which do not cover ceremonial counties or former metropolitan counties were formed in 2017: West of England, comprising Bristol and two of the three adjacent unitary authorities in Gloucestershire and Somerset, all of which had been within the former county of Avon; and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
In 2020 it was reported that other combined authorities for non-metropolitan parts of the country – such as Cumbria, Lancashire, North Yorkshire and Somerset – were under consideration, but the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on governance meant decisions were delayed until late 2021.
The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 allowed for certain functions over transport to be delegated from central government. The Localism Act 2011 allowed additional transfers of powers from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and gave combined authorities a general power of competence. The powers and functions to be shared are agreed by the metropolitan district, non-metropolitan district, non-metropolitan county or unitary authority councils.
In 2014 the government consulted on changes to the legislation governing combined authorities. Proposed changes included extending the legislation to Greater London, Wales and Scotland. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 received Royal Assent on 28 January 2016. The act allowed for the introduction of directly elected mayors to combined authorities in England and Wales with powers over housing, transport, planning and policing.
In 2020 the government planned to produce a white paper on 'Devolution and Local Recovery', which was expected to create new combined authorities with mayors - or "county mayors"- for non-metropolitan areas of the country. These have tentatively suggested to be a 'Great South West' grouping of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset (possibly with Somerset), and another in Lancashire. The white paper has been delayed and is now expected in late 2021.
Powers and functions
The combined authority is a legally recognised entity, able to assume the role of an integrated transport authority and economic prosperity board. This gives the authority the power to exercise any function of its constituent councils that relates to economic development and regeneration, and any of the functions that are available to integrated transport authorities. For transport purposes, combined authorities are able to borrow money and can levy their constituent authorities.
Combined authorities were (until the United Kingdom left the European Union) encouraged to borrow from European institutions for social and environmental schemes which met EU objectives. Loans were made with conditions attached which further EU policies. By 2015, Greater Manchester CA had agreed loans from the European Investment Bank which topped £1 billion, with similar liabilities to the Treasury and private business.
Creation and amendment
Combined authorities consist of two or more contiguous English local government areas. The creation of a combined authority is voluntary and all local authorities within the area must give their consent before it can be created. The local authority of any district of England outside Greater London can join a combined authority, and a county council can become part of a combined authority even if only some of the non-metropolitan districts that make up the county are within the combined authority area. A local authority may only belong to one combined authority.
There are three stages to the creation or amendment of a combined authority. Firstly a review must be undertaken to establish the likelihood that a combined authority would improve:
"...the exercise of statutory functions relating to transport in the area, the effectiveness and efficiency of transport in the area, the exercise of statutory functions relating to economic development and regeneration in the area, and economic conditions in the area."
On completion of the review the local authorities produce and publish a proposed scheme of the combined authority to be created, including the area that will be covered, the constitution and functions. This will include details of membership of the authority, remuneration, and how meetings will be chaired and recorded. Following a period of consultation and subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the combined authority is formally created, dissolved or altered by a statutory instrument.
Following the unsuccessful English mayoral referendums in 2012, new combined authorities were encouraged as an alternative structure to receive additional powers and funding as part of 'city deals'.
Several additional combined authorities have been proposed:
|Cheshire and Warrington||Proposals by Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, and Warrington underwent a public consultation in Summer 2017 but government permission was still being sought in Spring 2020.|
|Cumbria||Original proposal failed in 2017. A subsequent attempt for a single unitary authority failed in 2019, leading to a new proposal for a combined authority in late 2019, alongside replacing the two-tier system with two unitary authorities.|
|Dorset||A combined authority was proposed by the county's nine constituent councils, and is being considered by the two unitary councils (Dorset and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole), which replaced them in April 2019. However, the Dorset councils are in talks to join the "Great South West" CA.|
|East Midlands||There has been support from several council leaders for an East Midlands for a combined authority (in response to the West Midlands) with discussions to follow on whether a directly elected mayor would be implemented, and on the future of the existing boroughs. The scope of the devolution deal has involved the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, as well as their cities. The leaders of seven Leicestershire councils wrote in 2020 to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who gave support.|
|Essex/South Essex||A proposed devolution deal was narrowly voted against in 2016, but re-emerged in 2020. A separate deal was also proposed for a "South Essex" Combined Authority, covering Southend, Thurrock, Basildon, Castlepoint, Brentwood and Rochford. The whole Essex plan also suggested forming four new unitary authorities, whilst the South Essex plan favoured retaining the current status. The Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government stated in a letter that he did not favour the plan for a South Essex Combined Authority, but would be willing to discuss it.|
|Greater Brighton||7 councils in Sussex including Brighton and Hove have an economic board which coordinated development, skills and collaboration between councils. It is part of a long-term ambition to create a combined authority|
|North Yorkshire||After the government rejected the One Yorkshire Proposal (see below), despite some continued support, a North Yorkshire alternative has been proposed (also called York and North Yorkshire).|
|Great South West||Proposed by councils in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. The combined authority model was approved in principle by Devon and Somerset in 2017. Discussions were continuing as of early 2020, it has become controversial in Cornish local politics.|
|Hull and East Riding||After the government rejected the One Yorkshire proposal (see below), despite some continued support, a Hull and East Riding alternative has been proposed.|
|Lancashire||A proposal for Lancashire failed in 2017. Council leaders agreed to the concept in June 2020, with suggestions of reducing the number of districts into three unitary authorities, or implementing a single unitary authority instead of a combined authority. The three proposed successor authorities would cover the north and coast, central and south, and eastern and Pennine areas.|
Proposals for a number of combined authorities have not progressed due to lack of the required approval from some participating local councils. Some proposals have seen revivals, for example in Cumbria.
|East Anglia||A plan for a combined authority covering the entire East of England region including Norfolk and Suffolk as part of an "Eastern Powerhouse", similar to the Northern Powerhouse. The devolution deal was rejected by Cambridgeshire County and Peterborough City Councils. The original plan for separate devolution deals for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and Norfolk and Suffolk was eventually agreed, although the latter was later scrapped (see below).|
|Leicestershire||Leicestershire County Council proposed a combined authority in 2015, but by 2018 this had been replaced with a proposal for a wider East Midlands authority (see above).|
|Greater Lincolnshire||A plan for a Lincolnshire devolution was proposed, which would have included all constituent boroughs as well as the County Council. The proposal failed in 2016 after constituent councils voted against it, but is currently being included in plans for a wider East Midlands proposal (see above).|
|Heart of Hampshire||Alongside a proposal for a Solent Combined Authority in the south of the county (see below), a separate proposal was put forward for a combined authority covering the remaining districts. This would have included Basingstoke and Deane, Hart, New Forest, Rushmoor, Test Valley and Winchester. Alongside the Solent proposal, this later failed due to disagreements and the likelihood of the constituent authorities being reorganised.|
|Norfolk and Suffolk||Original proposal was for a Norfolk and Suffolk Combined Authority, before being replaced with an East Anglia proposal including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The East Anglia plan failed, reverting to the original two plans. Whilst the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough plan succeeded, the Norfolk and Suffolk plan failed, with King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council voting to reject the deal, and Norfolk County Council cancelling a subsequent planned meeting on the topic.|
|North Midlands||A combined authority was proposed by Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in 2016. South Derbyshire District Council, High Peak Borough Council, Amber Valley Borough Council and Erewash Borough Council all voted to reject the proposal, and Chesterfield Borough Council decided to sign up to the South Yorkshire Combined Authority instead. In July 2016, it was reported that the North Midlands devolution deal had collapsed. An East Midlands Combined Authority has subsequently been proposed (see above).|
|One Yorkshire||A proposal for a single Yorkshire Combined Authority, dubbed One Yorkshire, has been proposed for some time, but has failed to gain government support, being rejected in 2019. The proposal has support from 18 of the 20 Yorkshire councils, with Sheffield and Rotherham both preferring the South Yorkshire alternative. The Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis, also supports a One Yorkshire proposal. Whilst support remains for One Yorkshire, proposals are being discussed concerning York and North Yorkshire, and East Yorkshire (see above). Some support has continued despite these alternative proposals.|
|Solent||A proposal was made for a combined authority covering South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. As well as the Isle of Wight, this would have included the unitary authorities of Southampton and Portsmouth, alongside Eastleigh, Fareham, Gosport and Havant. The proposal was first made in 2016, but was rejected by the government. Discussions continued, but eventually the plan was rejected by the Isle of Wight Council. See also Heart of Hampshire above, a proposal for the remainder of Hampshire.|
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