By Ian Mean

Business West Gloucestershire director and former editor of the Western Daily Press

Michael Gove’s White Paper on Levelling Up has created a big challenge for Gloucestershire with its six district councils and a county council.

Councillor Mark Hawthorne, the leader of Gloucestershire County Council for 11 years does not believe that the White paper idea of a Mayor overseeing the county will benefit Gloucestershire in the short term.

And over the years, he has told me that he does not believe a unitary process will bring great benefits to Gloucestershire.

As editor of the Western Daily Press I saw an increasing amount of government money flow into Bristol with a Mayor.

Mark Hawthorne is clear-he does not believe a Mayor will work for Gloucestershire.

And on unitary authorities- he is of the strong belief that the benefits will take a long time to come to fruition. He points to the complexity that Somerset is currently going through.

However, my belief is that a unitary process will happen—sooner or later.

I asked Mark some pertinent questions following the White Paper.

IM: The Government’s Levelling-Up White Paper makes it pretty clear that those areas that agree to new county mayors would be in the front of the queue for new powers and resources from government, and for government attention more broadly. Are you concerned that Gloucestershire is going to be left behind?

MH: ”I don’t think we are going to be left behind. Indeed , we have had some huge successes on infrastructure with the A417,Junction 9 and Junction 10

on the M5 plus we have been given £52 million recently in Levelling Up money-around £40million from government- for the Gloucester and Forest of Dean projects plus money for county council road and cycle paths work.

“I think we punch above our weight and we are getting a really good level of attention from government on some of our inward investment opportunities.

“I welcome that government has set out very clear criteria for the different levels of devolution you can have and I think there are huge opportunities for Gloucestershire in that list.

“I think we can definitely be looking at Level 2(in the White Paper’s devolution framework-see sidebar information) which has a huge number of additional powers and responsibilities. That’s certainly what we are going to be working on over the next couple of months to get that deal in place.”

IM: What does Level 2 mean to the public?

MH: “There’s a big focus on sustainable transport-that’s something the county council is already leading on and we are putting additional resources into that.

“It’s about planning for a green future with extra housing around sensible, sustainable transport corridors that mean people don’t have to use their cars.”

IM: It seems that Michael Gove intends to reward doers and those places that decide not to embrace that will grow less quickly. I assume you do not wish to tell him that Gloucestershire doesn’t wish to grow?

MH: “I think Gloucestershire should already be seen as a doer. You don’t get a billion pounds in

your infrastructure pipeline if you fail to deliver. When ministers and government look at Gloucestershire, they see a county they can do business with.”

IM: You have always told me that have been against the unitary process in Gloucestershire-is that still the case?

MH: ”There are a huge number of two tier areas in the country so we are not unusual. What we are unique on in that place is that we are co-terminus with health, fire the police and our LEP so we are a functional economic area in our own right.

“So, from a government point of view we are in a really easy place to look at investing into because there are no overlapping geographies.

“We are a single geography with a very clear, unique story about how we want to grow. That’s the really important thing.

“A two tier authority like us can be very complicated but it can be a real opportunity as well and that’s what we must do here to harness that opportunity.”

IM: But with six district councils, how can you speak honestly for all of them now?

MH: ”The White Paper is very clear that it’s up to the county councils to lead a devolution discussion, and it will be up to us-working with GFirstLEP-and other partners to come up with a devolution deal that will include our district councils. That’s a really important set of conversations that I think we are going to have over the next couple of months.

“I think we could put this together very quickly-I don’t think there

needs to be any hanging about here. We know what the rules are now and we know what the opportunities are. They are opportunities too good to miss.

“Our story in Gloucestershire to government is that we want to grow”


Levelling Up White Paper Devolution Framework:

Level 3-A single institution or County Council with a directly elected mayor (DEM) across an FEA (functional economic area) or whole county area

Level 2-A single institution or County Council without a mayor (DEM), across an FEA (functional economic area) or whole county area

Level 1-Local authorities working together across an FEA or whole county area, eg. through a joint committee