Skip to main content

Regional Mayors: Accountability

Volume 744: debated on Monday 22 January 2024

The English devolution accountability framework was published in March 2023 to make it easier to understand how Mayors, leaders and institutions with devolved powers are held to account. The framework, alongside the recently published scrutiny protocol, will improve scrutiny and make clearer the outcomes and metrics that Mayors are delivering against.

Once again, I thank the Minister for the £48 million of levelling-up funds to upgrade the Penistone line, which will significantly improve the service and bring much-needed improvements to Shepley, Stocksmoor and Denby Dale stations. However, to achieve the ultimate goal of getting trains to run a half-hourly service, more investment is required, and that needs to come through the West Yorkshire Mayor and Network North. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Mayor should make that a priority, and announce the extra investment to ensure a full upgrade of the Penistone line?

We were delighted to provisionally award Kirklees Council with £48 million from the levelling-up fund to upgrade the Penistone railway line. I thank my hon. Friend and others, particularly Conservative Members, for their dedicated support, and I look forward to seeing the benefits that the funding will bring to people travelling between Huddersfield and Sheffield. As my hon. Friend says, Network North will see additional devolved funding provided to the West Yorkshire Mayor. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I will work with him and the Mayor to ensure that this new and unprecedented level of investment addresses local priorities, and supports towns, cities and rural areas across West Yorkshire.

In Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, we are looking forward to electing our first Mayor in a few weeks’ time, especially with the £1.5 billion of funding for transport improvements. How do we ensure that that money is spent on improving our road links, fixing potholes, improving railway lines and so on, and is not lost in the creation of a costly administrative third tier of local government?

We have provided additional funding to councils in the east midlands to set up the new local authority, so any additional funding through Network North will not be consumed by that. It is a fantastic opportunity to get my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) elected as the East Midlands Mayor. I am sure that he will focus on exactly the priorities my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) mentions.

One of the better aspects of devolution so far, which might actually work, is the trailblazer projects that have been rolled out in the west midlands and Greater Manchester. One of the key elements of those projects is having a single pot of money. I have repeatedly asked whether it is the intention to roll devolution deals out to the other combined authorities, and I have been assured that it is. Why, then, in the first iteration of what a new devolution deal might look like, have South Yorkshire, Merseyside and West Yorkshire been told that a single pot of money will not be included in the devolution deal? Why are the Government backtracking on the commitment to give those areas a full devolution deal, not a devolution-minus deal?

We have invited the combined authority areas that the hon. Gentleman mentions to progress to level 4 devolution, which as he rightly says does not come with a single settlement. It is something that we are still considering, and when we see it in action in the west midlands and Greater Manchester we will be able to assess its value for money and whether it is delivering for people there. I assure him that this is not devolution-minus; we are giving devolution-plus to communities the length and breadth of the country.

I am a big supporter of devolution to city regions such as Greater Manchester, and I welcome a number of the Government’s proposals to shift even more powers and responsibility from this place to the combined authority and Mayor, but does the Minister understand the disappointment of Greater Manchester MPs of all political persuasions in the proposals for greater scrutiny by MPs? One question at meetings, with a supplementary at the discretion of the chair, just does not cut it.

I held a session for Greater Manchester MPs on the scrutiny protocol. I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman was there, but I am happy to hold a further session with him. The scrutiny protocol is not yet in place; it is a work in progress, which we are trying to establish in partnership with MPs. We want to know what would work well for MPs in the scrutiny sessions.

Last week, the Secretary of State told the Business and Trade Committee that he hoped that the long-delayed inquiry that he commissioned into Teesworks and the Tees Valley Mayor will be published soon, and that he would not “pre-empt it”. The report was promised in July, then November, then December. It is now January. Where is it?

The hon. Lady should know that the ministerial code means I am recused from matters relating to my constituency. However, I would simply say to her when she wants to criticise Ben Houchen that he is one of the most effective Mayors we have had. The employment rate in Teesside since Ben was elected has increased by 3.6%, compared with the rest of the north-east, which only increased by 0.1%, and the national average of 0.6%. She should focus her attention on some of the Labour Mayors like the Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who is failing on housing, failing on crime and failing on the things that matter to people.