Devolution to get excited about: A New Unitary Authority of Nottingham & Derby (NUAND)
Have you heard the one about the Mayor of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire? No I am being serious! Our politicians have negotiated a Combined Authority of all the councils in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire including the cities of Derby and Nottingham. They are calling this the “Engine” of the East Midlands, an engine designed by a committee of politicians held together by compromise.
Don’t be fooled, nothing will change for the councils; this is an additional authority, another level of government with more politicians and more bureaucracy. Whoever gets the job of Mayor will have to get agreement from all 16 councils on how to spend just £50million per year; I do not envy him or her. Derby and Nottingham cannot even agree on where to site the station for HS2! This is what the politicians are calling devolution. No wonder we don’t take it seriously!
As a democrat I am excited by devolution. Devolution is about bringing power, influence and decision making closer to those it affects. It is meant to mean “Power to the People!” So where is the enthusiasm? Where is the excitement? When did you last talk about it down at the pub or around your dinner table?
The truth is that the devolution conversation is limited to politicians who in their clunky, British, evolutionary way discuss, and agree, things like Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships. One step at a time! This hasn’t stirred the local populous and I don’t see many people manning the barricades. We need a singular vision, focus and leadership to thrill people, to show them that there is an exciting future for where they live. A future rooted in their quality of life both at work and at play. This, and only this, will generate the clamour for change.
I am going to try to make the case for creating a brand new, single unitary authority for Derby, Nottingham and the surrounding areas by sweeping away the current chaos of councils. A single council is the only way to get that strength of vision, singular focus and determination to drive change. A Mayor of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire will not cut it.
The joining together of two cities in close proximity for mutual benefit sounds a bit revolutionary but if you look up Twin Cities on Wikipedia it lists 175 examples across the world. Minneapolis and St Paul is probably the most famous but other great cities that started as twin cities, including Berlin and Madrid.
For the sake of brevity I have referred in the past to this new authority as Trent City which led to some, not all, negative publicity. In an attempt to reduce the perceived rivalry between the two cities I have coined the exciting title of the Unitary Authority for Nottingham & Derby (UAND) but in this article I will stick with Twin City.
I can hear you saying that this is too ambitious and it will never happen. I say that it is the ambition that excites. I say it is the vision that will thrill the people. I say the possibilities are not short of remarkable. I say it is worth manning the barricades for.
Basing the Combined Authority on the whole of the two counties is the first mistake, as it does not address the geography. The boundaries of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were essentially established in 886 by a treaty between Alfred the Great and the Viking warlord Guthrum. Both counties were part of the ‘Danelaw’, an area of England known as the Five Boroughs. The current boundaries have fundamentally remained the same since being recorded in the Domesday Book. This is a proud history indeed but one that ignores the rapid expansion of Manchester and Sheffield during the industrial revolution.
· If you live in Glossop do you nip to Derby for your shopping or health care? Manchester maybe!
· If you live in Worksop do you work in Nottingham? No, you will probably work in Sheffield. The same goes for Chesterfield!
· If you live in Retford or Blyth would you want to invest in Holme Pierrepont or the Nottingham tram extension? Unlikely!
So what areas should combine and create the boundaries of the new Twin City authority? Well the only recent exercise in defining ‘communities’ that is based on distance travelled was the establishment of Post Code areas in the 1970s. I think this is a good start and if adopted the DE and NG postcode areas would create a city of nearly 1.5 million souls, making it the UK’s new second city after London and the 12th largest city in Europe. This will be a city to challenge both the overheated South East and the Northern Powerhouse, not something the Mayor of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire will be able to do.
With my limited resources (me!) it has not been possible to assess the costs of the postcode area so for this section I have assumed the new city boundaries would include the following councils: Derby, Nottingham, Rushcliffe, Gedling, Ashfield, Broxtowe, Mansfield, Amber Valley, Erewash and South Derbyshire will represent the comparative costs for the Twin City.
Let’s start with the politicians because, like turkeys and Christmas, they will hate this. There are far too many of them! Where I sit in Melbourne, a village a few miles south of Derby, I am represented by 15 Parish Councillors, 2 District Councillors, 1 County Councillor, 1 Member of Parliament and 5 Members of the European Parliament. The suggested area for the Twin City is currently represented by 614 District and County Councillors. That’s one councillor for every 2,374 persons. I will be using Birmingham as a comparator, where they have one councillor for every 8,950 persons. If the Birmingham ratio were applied to the probable population of The Twin City it would have 163 councillors, just over a quarter of the current numbers.
I have examined the accounts of the relevant councils to estimate the savings in member’s allowances and senior officer costs if The Twin City were to be established. Member’s allowances in the councils listed above totalled £7.9m in 2013/14 compared to £2.8m in Birmingham, a difference of £5.1m, but allowing for the possibility of extra members the estimated savings would be £4.8m.
Senior Officer’s cost in the Trent City area in 2013/14 was £9.7m compared to £1.7m in Birmingham. As the senior officer costs in the Twin City are likely to be the same as in Birmingham, an immediate saving of £7.9m arises.
That is a massive saving of £12.7m on just two lines in the budget, a quarter of what the Government are offering to the Mayor of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. There will be other efficiencies in both numbers of staff and buildings with the potential for instant capital for reinvestment following the sale of up to 10 council offices.
Despite its importance as the traditional boundary between the South and North of England, the River Trent has become almost irrelevant to the modern day East Midlands. In fact it has become part of the problem. It has created boundaries and is owned by no one. The boundary between Nottingham and Nottinghamshire is nonsense!
Crucially it forms the ancient boundary between Leicestershire and Derbyshire from historic ford at King’s Mill to the River Soar, which in turn forms the boundary between Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, creating a tongue of land at the extreme north west of Leicestershire. Unimportant in ancient times but that tongue of land now hosts two of the most crucial strategic assets in the East Midlands: the East Midlands Airport and Junction 24 of the M1.
Junction 24 is the crossroads of England — London south on the M1, Leeds north on the M1, Birmingham and Bristol on the A42 and Manchester on the A50. The upgrading of the A453 to Nottingham only enhances its importance. So why is it not the centre of the universe? The answer is why should the residents and politicians of Leicestershire and Leicester worry? The economic benefits of any focussed investment around the junction would only leak out to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and there are not enough votes in it.
The airport should be truly international, long haul as well as short haul, it is a couple of miles from Junction 24, making it within 2 hours of 30 million people. Currently it relies on freight that in turn relies on its ability to fly 24 hours per day. The East Midlands should be a leading international airport; instead it is dependent on low cost operators flying to the near continent. The same arguments apply; it is in Leicestershire and lacks ownership, focus and leadership from its local authority.
Not so strategic but do you think that Donington Park would have lost the British Grand Prix if it had been in the Twin City?
Remember that the combined authority of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, the so called engine of the East Midlands, will not address this anomaly of ancient times where two of Derby and Nottingham’s most crucial assets are in another county, and one that doesn’t really care about them. The postcode analysis puts them squarely in the DE area — surprise, surprise!
Every great city has its waterway, London and the Thames, Paris and the Seine, the Spree and Helbe in Berlin and Hamburg, Rome and the Tiber. The new twin city would have the Trent, the third greatest river in England, navigable from Cavendish Bridge in Shardlow. Do we make enough of this magnificent river? The only place in the consciousness of the nation is Trent Bridge and that is because of the cricket. Can we say the same about the Thames that has a similar navigable reach? I imagine what could be done with the River Trent, and its canals, if it had the focus and leadership of a Twin City Council.
Sport brings a community together and the Twin City would have top class sporting opportunities. Within its boundaries there would be five Football League sides, Liverpool has Everton and Liverpool FC, Birmingham has Aston Villa and Birmingham City and of course Manchester has City and United. The Twin City would have Derby County and Nottingham Forest two sides with a very proud history, not forgetting the oldest club Notts County, ironically situated in Nottingham city. The City would have a top ice hockey team and a first division rugby union side. It would have the National Ice Centre, the National Water Sports Centre, a brand new velodrome, horse racing at Colwick Park and if we include the whole of the DE area the national centre for football excellence at St Georges Park. On top of this Nottingham hosts a major tennis competition, Donington Park is a top class, international motor sports facility and Trent Bridge is one of the most famous test cricket grounds in the world. Who could not be excited!
The Twin City presents an opportunity for the next generation to design and develop a clean, green city of the future. Although it is almost a blank canvas, it starts with great open spaces including the Attenborough nature reserve and great parks including at least three deer parks.
The Twin City’s industrial prospects are high with many existing international companies to build upon: Rolls Royce, Bombardier, Toyota — Planes, Trains and Automobiles, as well as Boots and Bio City.
Whatever the future it needs to be in the hands of local people with the power, vision and focus to decide and implement it. The East Midland’s engine needs to be smooth, efficient and powerful, with all of its components working together. The engine on offer is cobbled together with ill-matched components that will find it very difficult to work together and will probably pull itself apart .
The combined authority of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire is clearly the price that the Government is extracting for devolving very limited powers to the East Midlands Engine. Sweeping away the chaos of local government to create a single, focused unitary authority is the only way to create the powerful engine needed to drive real change, let’s make it a “twin carb” city creating even more power for the people.
The politicians will see this as too bold a step and will need our permission to be brave. If you think that this proposal has wings and should be explored then show your support by following the Twitter account @NUAND