Delegated Legislation Committee
Draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) Order 2017 Draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions to the Mayor) Order 2017
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Philip Davies
† Afriyie, Adam (Windsor) (Con)
† Atkins, Victoria (Louth and Horncastle) (Con)
† Blunt, Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
† Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Coffey, Ann (Stockport) (Lab)
† Green, Kate (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
† Griffiths, Andrew (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
† Lewis, Brandon (Minister for Policing and the Fire Service)
† Mercer, Johnny (Plymouth, Moor View) (Con)
† Nandy, Lisa (Wigan) (Lab)
† Offord, Dr Matthew (Hendon) (Con)
† Prisk, Mr Mark (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
† Siddiq, Tulip (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)
† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
† Stevenson, John (Carlisle) (Con)
† Whittingdale, Mr John (Maldon) (Con)
Adam Evans, Sean Bex, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 13 March 2017
[Philip Davies in the Chair]
Draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) Order 2017
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) Order 2017.
With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions to the Mayor) Order 2017.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.
The draft orders will give effect to the devolution deal struck between the Government and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions to the Mayor) Order makes detailed provision for the transfer of responsibility for police and crime commissioner functions in Greater Manchester from the police and crime commissioner to the new directly elected Mayor. The Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner will be abolished on 8 May 2017. The transfer of those functions to the elected Mayor will not only preserve the democratic accountability established under the police and crime commissioner model, but, by joining up oversight of fire and rescue services and other public services, could promote further and deeper collaboration in the area.
The elected Mayor will exercise the key functions of a police and crime commissioner and must personally exercise the following strategic functions: setting the police and crime plan, taking decisions about chief constable appointments and setting the police component of the combined authority precept. To provide additional leadership capacity, the elected Mayor may appoint a deputy mayor for policing and crime, to whom certain responsibilities may be delegated. The elected Mayor will assume the key financial decision-making responsibilities of a police and crime commissioner, including borrowing powers in relation to those functions. Such decisions will be taken by the elected Mayor, acting on behalf of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
The draft order was developed in consultation with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner and Greater Manchester police. The combined authority and its constituent councils have consented to the draft order.
The draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) Order will transfer responsibility for overseeing fire and rescue functions in Greater Manchester from the fire and rescue authority to the combined authority and provides for the elected Mayor to exercise those functions. The Greater Manchester fire and rescue authority will also be abolished when these provisions come into force. Transferring the oversight of fire and rescue functions in Greater Manchester to the Mayor will provide direct electoral accountability for the provision of that essential public service and facilitate closer working among local partners. The draft order will permit the Mayor to delegate certain responsibilities to a fire committee formed of members of the constituent councils of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
The draft order identifies several fire and rescue functions as strategic functions that must be personally exercised by the Mayor and cannot be delegated. That will ensure that the elected Mayor retains personal responsibility for the fire and rescue functions that significantly impact how the fire and rescue service is delivered. Those strategic functions include approving the local risk plan and fire and rescue declaration, in accordance with the fire and rescue national framework, and approving contingency plans under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The elected Mayor will also remain personally responsible for taking decisions relating to the appointment of the chief fire officer, and the draft order will ensure that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has the power to borrow in relation to its fire and rescue functions.
The changes that the draft order will make were endorsed by the people of Greater Manchester in a public consultation conducted by the combined authority, and the draft order was developed in close consultation with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and formally consented to by the combined authority and its constituent councils. I commend the draft orders to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. The Minister will be delighted to know that I will not repeat at length my arguments against the course that the Government have taken on police and fire mergers. I will, however, begin by saying that the core of our objection last year concerned local demand and local consent. We thought then—and still think today—that it is wrong to force a merger of police and fire authorities on an area that does not want one.
Thankfully, that does not apply to these draft orders, which have received the consent of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and are part of a wider devolution deal. That deal should enable the Manchester city region to adapt, to the extent that any level of government can, to the extremely difficult combination of reduced service funding and increased service demand that they will face over coming years. We welcome the devolution settlement as a way to bring powers together at a level where they can be used effectively and their use can be held accountable effectively.
There is a long history of local authorities working together across Greater Manchester, with or without a permanent statutory framework, which bodes well for such reforms. That history of co-operation in major cities is one that the Conservative party has not generally had much respect for, so I am delighted by the apparent change of heart. We still have serious concerns about the fragmentation and incoherence of this Government’s attempts at devolution within England thus far, but that need not prevent us from endorsing reforms if they go in the right direction.
I hope that none of us assumes that the devolution process has gone far enough to put in place genuine devolution to Manchester. Our local areas need more control over revenue raised locally, so that such deals will not simply transfer responsibility for cuts made by central Government. Governments should never pass the buck without passing the bucks. Local government needs a system for national funding that is fair, transparent and based on real need—not sweetheart deals with Ministers at meetings in cars outside Downing Street. That is particularly important for areas such as fire and rescue and policing, where community safety is paramount.
More generally, the current model of piecemeal reform is inadequate. Restructuring should not be imposed from the top down and cannot be based only on local authorities going cap in hand to Ministers either. We need to make devolution the default if we are to open up public services to the experience and creativity of local areas and truly demonstrate our trust in the people who are most affected by changes in policy.
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority consent documents noted that the draft orders
“will need to be in place by February 2017 at the latest to allow sufficient time for Mayoral candidates to be fully aware of the powers of the elected Mayor and to prepare a manifesto.”
Clearly, that has not happened, since it is now the middle of March and some of the legislation determining the new Mayor’s powers is still not fully confirmed. Does the Minister have an explanation?
I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that not only the mayoral candidates need to be sighted of the Mayor’s powers but the Manchester electorate, many of whom are completely baffled by what the Mayor will and will not be able to do.
I completely and utterly agree. My hon. Friend made the point better than I could.
More broadly, this is the first case—apart from the now well-established arrangements in Greater London—where full accountability and power relating to policing will be assigned to the elected Mayor of a city region. The fact that responsibility for fire and rescue services will be mixed in at the same time makes it doubly significant, because the Mayor of London does not have direct responsibility for fire and rescue. There is now an urgent case to be made that the new Mayor of Greater Manchester will have a truly unprecedented degree of authority across those two public services. It will be an important test case for future structural reform.
It is important to note that the offices of Mayor of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and of police and crime commissioner for the area have already been combined to some extent for almost two years now, because Tony Lloyd, Labour’s elected PCC, was appointed as interim Mayor on 29 May 2015. He has served in both capacities admirably and has set an excellent standard, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will live up to, starting on 8 May.
To sum up, we support the draft orders. They will help to cement the devolution settlement for Greater Manchester, which has received the agreement of local authorities and residents in and around that great city. I hope that members of all parties will join me in wishing the new Mayor well in helping the city region to deal with the undoubted challenges of the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, in a debate on a matter as important as this to me and the many people who live in Greater Manchester and will be affected by these changes.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, I very much welcome the thrust of what the Government are trying to do, particularly pushing power out of Whitehall and Westminster and ensuring that decisions affecting our lives are made much closer to where we are. I echo her words by paying tribute to all those who have been involved—not only Tony Lloyd, the interim Mayor, who has done an excellent job, but the many politicians and officials who have done something quite unique in bringing together a whole range of diverse interests and circumstances across Greater Manchester and getting everybody pointing in the right direction. It has not been easy, and they deserve real credit.
These statutory instruments, quite understandably, concentrate a great deal of power in the hands of one individual. However, I do not think the Government have thought hard enough about the level of scrutiny and accountability that needs to be built into the system. There is considerable confusion among the general public in Greater Manchester about what the reforms mean. I heard what the Minister said about the consultation, but if he means the consultation on the legislation that gave rise to these statutory instruments, he should know that that was advertised on one Government website and ran for just three weeks and garnered only 12 responses, 10 of which were from the same council leaders who set up these arrangements in the first place.
People must be part of the conversation, not least because Greater Manchester is a very diverse area. For example, the needs in my borough of Wigan are very different from those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston. If we look at the details of what is being devolved to the Mayor and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities through the statutory instruments, a very large borough such as mine obviously has different fire and rescue needs from the city of Manchester, which is very small. That is why scrutiny and accountability really matter.
The election of the Mayor is long overdue and very welcome, but the only real place where the Mayor will be accountable under these arrangements is to those same 10 council leaders who helped to establish this situation in the first place and who retain a great deal of decision-making power across Greater Manchester. As the Minister will know, ours is an area where one party dominates politics. Obviously, as a Labour Member of Parliament, I am very pleased about that, and long may it continue. However, that poses a question, particularly when we consider that Greater Manchester is intended to be the first of many areas to follow this model: where will the challenge come from? Of the council leaders who currently represent the boroughs across Greater Manchester, only one of them is a woman and only one is from an ethnic minority background.
In relation to the fire authority, I understand from the documents that a committee will be appointed by the Mayor. Members of that committee will be councillors or officers of the 10 borough councils, but they will be proposed by council leaders—the same council leaders who provide the primary scrutiny function for the Mayor. Those posts appear to come with an allowance; I imagine they will be hotly contested among councillors and officers.
We have a very centralised model of council leadership across Greater Manchester; council leaders are responsible for making the vast majority of appointments to their cabinets and to outside bodies as well. In such a system, what incentive does the Minister think there is to challenge decisions that are made? The documents reference the need to mirror the balance of political parties. I would be grateful to the Minister if he elaborated on the Government’s thinking, particularly on making sure that some cross-party scrutiny is built into the system. That is even more important because a report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations recently found that, in areas where devolution is under way, the voluntary sector has had little or no involvement at all. As a representative of civil society, I think that is unacceptable; it mirrors what I have seen happening in my area of Greater Manchester so far.
I will say something about the police and crime commissioner functions, because I think that all the points I have made are more important in that area than any other. The Mayor will be scrutinised by a police and crime panel, but our police and crime panel in Greater Manchester is made up of those same council leaders I have just referred to. They also make up the Mayor’s cabinet and provide the only channel of accountability and scrutiny for the public outside of election times.
I understand that the diversity problems I have raised may be addressed by the Mayor via the appointment of up to five additional members to that panel—I would be grateful to the Minister if he confirmed that—but even so, it is likely that the scrutiny membership on that panel will be heavily weighted in favour of council leaders. What resources will those additional lay members have to ensure that they can do that job properly and effectively? I say that because Greater Manchester is an incredibly diverse area, which is not currently reflected in our political arrangements.
My hon. Friend is raising concerns that a number of us, although we welcome devolution, have raised throughout the process of designing the devolution settlement for Greater Manchester. Does she think it unlikely that, in making appointments to those five lay places, the Mayor will appoint people who are likely to be assertive and critical of his or her decisions?
The problem with the vision set out in the documents is that it very much relies on the good will of the person who holds that post. In such an important area, I do not think that is an adequate safeguard.
The same seems to apply to the hearing of police and crime complaints. If those are criminal complaints, I understand that the responsibility will continue to lie with the Independent Police Complaints Commission. However, if they are non-criminal, they will be heard by the local authorities, which will of course take them straight back to the 10 people who sit on all those boards and provide that level of accountability. The Minister is shaking his head; I would be grateful to him if he cleared this up. One of the problems we have had in Greater Manchester is in trying to penetrate the arrangements that have evolved over the past couple of years. Obviously, with an election looming large, it will be helpful for the Committee and the wider public to understand where that outside scrutiny and challenge will come from.
Finally, the documents set out that the Government have not seen fit to do an impact assessment, which is a mistake. They say that there are no plans to build in any kind of review period for the arrangements because there will be elections for the position of Mayor three years after the first election and then four years after that. This could build up real problems threatening the very success of this enterprise. Real devolution has to be based on consent and built from the ground up. The people must be heard.
I will deal with the points from the hon. Member for Wigan first. Council leaders themselves will not be on the panels; the panels will be made up of members from the combined authority’s constituent councils. There is a core issue behind this: there is a big difference in how scrutiny works between the structure with a police or fire authority and that with a directly elected Mayor. The clue is in the title—they are elected, so ultimately the scrutiny is there with the electorate. If there are formal complaints, particularly if they are criminal complaints, they go to the IPCC; obviously, that will change to the new body under the Policing and Crime Act 2017.
The committee with fire responsibilities will be limited in the number of members, and it must reflect the political balance of the area it serves. We all want to see balance in terms of gender and ethnicity. We have been very clear about that. I have personally been clear that the diversity in the fire sector in particular is simply not good enough and needs to improve. That is a matter for the constituent councils who represent those bodies to look at and for us all to consider in terms of the candidates we put forward. I have high hopes that the directly elected Mayor who will take on these roles will be Sean Anstee—he would do a great job for the area—but it is a matter for the constituent councils to look at who they put forward. I am afraid that if the hon. Lady does not have faith in her candidate, she might want to take that up with the members who selected the candidate in the first place. Ultimately, it is up to the members of the public who will directly elect somebody to make those decisions in the same way as in London. She talked about the size and variance of the area; I put it to her that London has that challenge as well, and in London we still have a directly elected Mayor.
The Minister says the committee will reflect the political balance of the area. I am not clear what that means and whether it will reflect the leadership of the councils or the political representation within them. Just to be clear, in London, there is an Assembly, but nothing like that is envisaged for Greater Manchester.
An agreement—this links to the points made by the hon. Member for West Ham, which I will come to in a second—has been reached with the local area. Actually, reflecting localism is different in London. This has been consulted on locally and the public will get to vote on it locally, but the elected Mayor has to ensure that the committee’s political balance reflects that of the constituent councils.
The hon. Lady used a phrase about being against false mergers and said that false mergers are wrong. I agree with that, so we agree on more than one thing today. That is why we were clear that the Policing and Crime Act is enabling legislation; it is for local areas to look at what is right for them and to come to us. One of the challenges is that we will see different models around the country. The hon. Lady talked about this not being top down and she is right—this does not work if it is top down, so we will see differences around the country when we look at devolution deals and at PCCs and Mayors who have differing approaches in different areas. That is absolutely right, to reflect the differences across the country in how people work.
I fully accept the point made by both hon. Members who have spoken that a great deal of credit is due to the people involved and to Tony Lloyd—I have worked with him in his current position—in getting to this point and getting a structure that works and has managed to bring together constituent councils of different types, both politically and demographically. I give great credit to everybody who has been involved with that as we go in to that election.
We are, and I am, very clear that bringing together responsibility for a wider range of services, including police and fire, under a directly elected Mayor can not only enhance accountability—that ultimate democratic accountability we all recognise—but provide opportunities for more local collaboration. That is something we have already seen PCCs driving across the country, and I wish Manchester well with it. I commend the draft orders to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
DRAFT GREATER MANCHESTER COMBINED AUTHORITY (TRANSFER OF POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER FUNCTIONS TO THE MAYOR) ORDER 2017
That the Committee has considered the draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions to the Mayor) Order 2017.—(Brandon Lewis.)
Draft Tees Valley Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2017
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Ms Karen Buck
† Blenkinsop, Tom (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab)
† Doyle-Price, Jackie (Thurrock) (Con)
† Fernandes, Suella (Fareham) (Con)
† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
† Gove, Michael (Surrey Heath) (Con)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) (Lab)
† Holloway, Mr Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
† McMahon, Jim (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab)
† Morris, Anne Marie (Newton Abbot) (Con)
† Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
† Percy, Andrew (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
† Pow, Rebecca (Taunton Deane) (Con)
† Scully, Paul (Sutton and Cheam) (Con)
† Turley, Anna (Redcar) (Lab/Co-op)
† Warburton, David (Somerton and Frome) (Con)
Jonathan Whiffing, Joe Watt, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
First Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 13 March 2017
[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]
Draft Tees Valley Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2017
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Tees Valley Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2017.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. The order was laid before the House on 6 February 2017. Veterans of the previous statutory instrument Committee on Tees Valley only three weeks ago will remember that I mentioned that we had laid another order to confer powers on the Mayor and the combined authority. The order we are discussing this afternoon does just that. This is yet another important step on the route to implementing the devolution deal that the Government agreed with Tees Valley in October 2015.
The order will confer on the combined authority powers to be exercised by the Mayor. Those include the power to procure a local transport plan for the area and to control and allocate a devolved transport budget. The draft order also provides that the functional power of competence, which is already exercisable by the combined authority, is also exercisable by the Mayor. The draft order confers various additional powers on the Tees Valley combined authority relating to transport and housing, and makes funding and constitutional provisions to support the powers and functions conferred.
The implementation of the devolution deal agreed between local leaders and the Government has already seen three orders made in relation to the Tees Valley. First, we made the Tees Valley Combined Authority Order 2016, which established the combined authority in April 2016. Secondly, we made the Tees Valley Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) Order 2016, which created the position of Mayor for the Tees Valley, with the first election to be held on 4 May this year. Thirdly, as I mentioned at the start, we made the Tees Valley Combined Authority (Functions) Order 2017, which enables the establishment of a mayoral development corporation in the Tees Valley combined authority area. That will be the first one outside London. I wholeheartedly welcome it and pay tribute to all those in the Tees Valley who have worked towards instituting it.
Today’s order is made under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, as amended by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. As required by the 2016 Act, along with the order we have laid a report that provides detail about the public authority functions we are devolving to the combined authority. The statutory origin of the order is the governance review and scheme prepared by the combined authority together with the five constituent councils: Darlington, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees, Redcar and Cleveland, and Middlesbrough. That scheme set out the proposals for the powers to be conferred on the combined authority, some of which are to be exercised by the Mayor, and for funding and constitutional provisions to support the powers and functions conferred.
As provided for by the 2009 Act, the combined authority and all the councils consulted on the proposals in their scheme. That consultation ran for six weeks, until August last year. Before laying the draft order, the Secretary of State considered the statutory requirements in the 2009 Act and is satisfied that they have all been met. The Secretary of State considers that conferring the functions on the combined authority would likely lead to an improvement in the exercise of the statutory functions, which is one of the statutory tests. He has also had regard to the impact on local government. Furthermore, as required by the legislation, all five constituent councils have consented to the making of the order, as has the combined authority.
The order will confer the following powers on the combined authority, to be exercised by the Mayor. First, it will confer the power to pay grants to the five constituent councils of the Tees Valley combined authority, with the condition that the Mayor has regard to the desirability of ensuring that the councils have sufficient funds to discharge their highways functions effectively. Secondly, we are devolving the power to produce a local transport plan for the area. The order also provides for the functional power of competence, which is already exercisable by the combined authority, to be conferred on the Mayor.
Finally, the order confers various powers on the combined authority, including powers to provide local passenger transport services, which are already delegated to the combined authority, and the duty to review housing need in the area. It also provides funding and constitutional provisions to support the conferred powers and functions, including the establishment of an independent remuneration panel to recommend the allowances of the Mayor. If approved, the order will come into force on 8 May, when the Tees Valley Mayor takes office, with the exception of the provision relating to the establishment of an independent remuneration panel, which will come into force on the day after the order is made, which will enable the combined authority to make the necessary arrangements now.
The order devolves new powers to the Tees Valley combined authority, giving effect to the devolution deal we negotiated with the five local authorities in the combined authority, which we believe will help the area to fulfil its long-term economic and social ambitions. I pay tribute—I always do with such orders—to the local authority leaders, councillors and officers who have put so much work into bringing the devolution deal together and who are working closely for the betterment of their local area. The order is a significant milestone in giving effect to the devolution deal that we have negotiated. We hope that it will lead to a more balanced economy, improved housing supply and economic success across the area.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. We have considered a number of similar orders before, and there is always the danger of repeating previous comments. I will save you and other Members from that pleasure and cut to the substance of my views on where we are now.
There has been a distinct lack of public engagement in this process. The point has been made a number of times, not only by me but by several other Members and local authorities, about how best to engage the public in devolution discussions, particularly when a mayoral election is hard-wired into the agreement and we expect the public to turn out to vote for those with ambitions to hold that office. I therefore cannot say that it is anything less than disappointing to see such a low turnout for the consultation on these changes. Around 2,000 consultees responded to the local authorities’ consultation, but just 11 members of the public responded to the Government’s consultation; of a population of 670,000, that is a turnout of 0.001% of people who felt engaged enough to take part and express an opinion.
That is important, because those who took the trouble to make representations were responding, in my view, to an important part of the order. In fact, it is so important that it is included in the order:
“In making this Order, the Secretary of State has had regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities, and to secure effective and convenient local government.”
The identities and interests of the local community are important. Question 2 on page 6 of the Government’s consultation, which was published in February this year, asks whether or not establishing a combined authority will have a positive or negative impact on the identity in that locality. Of the 11 people who responded, seven said that it would have a negative impact on the identities of those areas.
The order tells us that the Government will take local identities into account, but the majority of the 0.001% of people who actually responded to the consultation said that they thought it would affect those areas’ identities. That is clearly an extremely small sample, and the argument will always be that those who take part in a central Government consultation of such a technical nature will be those who are against it; people who are happy with it generally get on with life and do not make representations or submissions.
We are yet to see what the Government intend to do about really engaging the English in the necessary debate on a new settlement for devolution in England. We heard the cries to take back control during the debate on Brexit. Let us be honest: people were not really talking about ending the relationship with Europe; they were saying that they want to control things that affect them and their families. They want to know that if they want decent housing, they can get it, that if their school is not performing, they can change that, and that if they want good quality health care, they can get it—and if it does not work, they can do something about it. They were asking for the mechanism and levers to effect change in their lives. The Opposition believe that that happens through devolution and empowering communities with more control over their lives. It is therefore disappointing that, as we negotiate our exit from the European Union, more is not being done with the power of devolution to hand people the power they demanded in the Brexit vote.
The Government have a unique opportunity to offer a new settlement on how the country is governed and where power sits, and a way for people to have genuine power over matters that concern them and their families. The Minister has a significant weight of responsibility to bring forward a compelling vision for the devolved settlement and, more than that, a programme of activity that will engage the public in the process.
If what happens is another example of a centralising state that believes it knows best, and does things to people whether they like it or not, not only will we face a backlash at the ballot box when people stay at home instead of voting but, post-Brexit, people will feel that they have no more power than they had before.
The shadow Minister generally makes reasonably positive contributions in such statutory instrument debates. I enjoyed his comments about public engagement, in which he seemed to criticise us for having so few people engaging in the process, and then he suggested—I am not sure how this sits with the first comment—that we should perhaps listen to the seven people he highlighted.
There were 1,911 responses to the consultation, of which 74.46% agreed that a partnership approach was important. That suggests that those who took part generally believed that bringing the five authorities together was important. Nearly 65% of respondents agreed that the Tees Valley should strengthen its partnership approach through a new combined authority, so there was clearly strong support for that, and 86.4% agreed that economic development was an important area for—
The hon. Gentleman must stop doing this when I am halfway through a sentence. Just let me finish my point and I may give way in a moment.
More than 90% agreed that employment skills were an important area of economic growth for the Tees Valley. There was therefore strong support generally for the content of the order and, among those who took part in the consultation, for partnership working and the construction of a combined authority. I have now finished my point and would be delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I interrupted the Minister in mid-sentence to try to save him from the cul-de-sac of a point that he was making by conflating two separate consultations. A consultation was carried out by the local enterprise partnership at local level, and the Minister is right to say that it had a significantly higher response rate than the Government consultation did. However, the consultation on the order before the Committee today received 28 responses—that is what the Government paper says. It was a separate process and a separate consultation. Let us not conflate the two in an attempt to demonstrate that the Government have done better than they have.
I am not sure that I follow the hon. Gentleman’s point, because consultations have been undertaken at various stages and I was referring him to the responses, which clearly show that a majority of people in the area understand the need for the local authorities to work more closely together. That is why they have shown support in the consultation.
We have of course debated the public engagement element before. I note that the shadow Minister said that he did not want to repeat his previous comments, and then promptly went on to repeat some of them. When we have discussed such matters before, we have of course traded arguments across the Committee, and I have repeatedly made the point that, as I think he accepts, we must not pretend that the formation of a combined mayoral authority is the talk of the Dog and Duck. It is not necessarily something that many people will get involved in, in a practical sense. That does not mean that they do not understand or agree about the need for and importance of local partnership working; I think that they do.
The example I have used previously is the London mayoralty. There was a lot of scepticism about the position when it was first created, but now Londoners would not wish to be without it. It is difficult to say to somebody in an area, “This is what it will look like.” Once this is actually in place and people see—hopefully, depending on who is elected and how good a job they do—the combined authority and the Mayor working together for the good of the area, with additional money from Government and additional powers, people will be engaged in that.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has put significant amounts of money aside in the run-up to the mayoral elections in May—they will be held in a number of places across the country—to promote them and encourage people to go out and vote. These are new structures that will take time to bed in, but I am sure it is something the public will follow with interest in their localities.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned English devolution. I will take no lectures from the Opposition, having spent 10 years as a local government councillor in the 13 years of a Labour Government—
They were hardly the good old days. I do not remember a great deal being devolved to us other than responsibility with no money.
The hon. Gentleman tempted me down the Brexit route. I am always fascinated to hear those people who were on the losing side of the campaign, and who did not understand the people who voted for Brexit, try to interpret why people voted to leave. They now stand up in this place and repeatedly tell me, somebody who did campaign and who represents an area that voted strongly for Brexit, why people voted to leave. It is amazing how they seem to be the only people capable of interpreting the votes of those they did not understand in the referendum campaign. But I am not going to go down that route, Ms Buck, because I can see that you are looking at me to bring me back to order.
As I said in my opening speech, this is an important step in getting the devolution deal implemented and the new money out the door and to the Tees Valley, where I am sure it will be spent for the benefit of the local economy and local people.
Question put and agreed to.