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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 They were superseded by local enterprise partnerships, voluntary groups whose membership was drawn from the private sector with local authority input.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, two indirectly elected combined authorities were established covering the ceremonial county areas of South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, and a further two 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. In 2016, the first combined authority to not cover a metropolitan county was formed. This was Tees Valley, which 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 Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his 2023 budget speech that "trailblazer deals" had been struck with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and West Midlands Combined Authority which include reforms to their funding models. As part of these deals the combined authorities will be treated in a similar manner to government departments at the next spending review and each will be allocated a multi-year single settlement replacing a large number of individual grant funding streams for which they must currently submit individual competitive bids. In return, the CAs will face greater oversight, including quarterly scrutiny sessions by new committees of local MPs.
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 was delayed and was eventually published on 2 February 2022.
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."— Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, Part 6
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 the 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, combined authorities were encouraged as an alternative structure to receive additional powers and funding as part of 'city deals'.
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (March 2022)
Several additional combined authorities have been proposed. In 2022 a government white paper was published which included nine areas invited to take part in devolution deals.
|Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire||Nottinghamshire; Nottingham; Derbyshire; Derby||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 join the South Yorkshire Combined Authority instead. In July 2016, it was reported that the North Midlands devolution deal had collapsed.
There has been support from several council leaders for an East Midlands 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.
In 2022, leaders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire county councils, and Nottingham and Derby city councils, stated that discussions had taken place for a deal, and that they were open to a mayoral deal. A proposal was made by Government and signed by the four councils on 30 August 2022, to form the first Mayoral Combined County Authority.
In February 2023, Mansfield's M.P., Ben Bradley, deferred his decision whether to run for election as mayor from 2024 until later in the year, whilst in the March 2023 budget, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, mooted a potential new investment zone within the projected authority area.
|Hampshire, the Solent and Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole||Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole; Hampshire; Isle of Wight; Southampton; Portsmouth||Previous plans in Hampshire have included a Solent Combined Authority in South Hampshire (potentially alongside the Isle of Wight) and a 'Heart of Hampshire' Deal including the remainder of the county. However, these plans were rejected in the South due to objections from Isle of Wight Council, and in the North of the county due to disagreements and the likelihood of the constituent authorities being reorganised. A Dorset combined authority was proposed by the county's former nine constituent councils, and is being considered by the two unitary councils (Dorset and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole) which replaced them in April 2019.
In 2021 a new plan including Hampshire, Isle of Wight, and Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole was being pursued, though lacking appetite for a mayor.
|Leicestershire & Rutland||Leicestershire; Leicester; Rutland||Leicestershire County Council proposed a combined authority in 2015, with discussions after including an East Midlands deal. A Leicestershire deal has also been proposed by government but without Leicester; as the whitepaper stipulates a minimum population of 500,000, Leicester or Rutland would not be able to form individual devolution deals; both Leicester and Rutland have been proposed as joining part of a deal. Rutland was previously a district of Leicestershire between 1974 and 1997 before regaining its independence, but is open to joining a Leicestershire deal.|
|Northumbria||Gateshead; Newcastle upon Tyne; North Tyneside; Northumberland; South Tyneside; Sunderland||The authorities are planning to submit a mayoral plan to government. Northumberland, North Tyneside, and Newcastle are currently part of the North of Tyne Combined Authority, which would be replaced by the new one, with £230m for transport infrastructure if the mayoral deal is reached.|
|One Yorkshire||East Riding of Yorkshire; North Yorkshire; South Yorkshire; West 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 below). Some support has continued despite these alternative proposals.|
|Berkshire||Bracknell Forest; Reading; Slough; West Berkshire; Windsor and Maidenhead; Wokingham||Berkshire County Council was abolished in 1998, leaving the districts as unitary authorities. In 2021 the constituent districts agreed to submit an expression of interest in a county deal.|
|Buckinghamshire||Buckinghamshire||Although not included in the 2022 white paper, Buckinghamshire Council hopes to be part of the next wave of county deals, but without a mayor.|
|Cheshire and Warrington||Cheshire West & Chester; Cheshire East; 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. All three councils are in favour of a non-mayoral deal, although local Conservative MPs were not supportive. Warrington's Chief Executive has “received a letter from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities” with hopes for a ministerial meeting.|
|Cumbria||Cumberland; Westmorland and Furness||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. As the initial plan for the unitarization was based on the assumption of a county-level combined authority to manage adult and children's services, the deal has been prioritized. There are currently disagreements between the to-be Eastern and Western districts on whether the deal should include a mayor.|
|Devon||Devon; Plymouth; Torbay||A Devon-wide deal, including the unitary authorities of Plymouth and Torbay, is being led by Devon County Council.|
|Durham||County Durham||A county-wide deal is being pursued in hopes of control over house building, renewable energy, and training, but without a mayor. The district is currently part of the North East Combined Authority.|
|East Riding of Yorkshire||East Riding; Kingston upon Hull||After the government rejected the One Yorkshire proposal (see above) and a cross-Humber deal with North Lincolnshire failed, a Hull and East Riding alternative has been proposed. Negotiations have begun with government on a deal, with leaders of both unitary authorities indicating a preference for a rotating chair instead of a mayor.|
|Essex||Essex; Thurrock; Southend-on-Sea||A proposed devolution deal was narrowly voted against in 2016, but has 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||Adur and Worthing Councils; Brighton and Hove; Lewes; Mid Sussex||Seven 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|
|Hertfordshire||Hertfordshire||Hertfordshire districts have given support for a deal, but was not included in the 2022 white paper.|
|Lancashire||Blackburn with Darwen; Blackpool; 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 northern and coastal, central and southern, and eastern and Pennine areas. All potential constituent authorities have reviewed plans created by the county council, and are now "studying the detail of the white paper and its implications for driving forward our devolution aspirations”.|
|Lincolnshire||Lincolnshire; North Lincolnshire; North East 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, with subsequent discussions of an East Midlands devolution deal. Currently the councils of Lincolnshire are working on a 10-point plan to submit to government for a Lincolnshire deal.|
|Norfolk||Norfolk||The original proposal was for a Norfolk and Suffolk Combined Authority, before it was 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.
The District and County Council previously disagreed over the election of a mayor. The government and the county council signed a devolution agreement on 8 December 2022, which included the creation of an elected mayor with the title Elected Leader. Subject to consultation, and council and parliamentary approval, the first Elected Leader will be elected in 2024 to coincide with the police and crime commissioner elections.
|North Yorkshire||North Yorkshire; York||Whilst North Yorkshire is currently two-tier apart from York, the area currently under the county council will become a new unitary authority from 2023, with York remaining a separate unitary authority. Talks of a devolution deal between the two authorities have commenced, although with some concerns from York that the mayoralty would be dominated by North Yorkshire. A deal for a North Yorkshire Combined Authority and Mayor of North Yorkshire between Government and the two councils was struck on 1 August 2022.|
|Staffordshire||Staffordshire; Stoke-on-Trent||A leadership board has been formed by Staffordshire County Council and its constituent districts, with an invitation to unitary Stoke-on-Trent. There is some interest in devolution talks, but requiring Stoke-on-Trent's participation.|
|Suffolk||Suffolk||The original proposal was for a Norfolk and Suffolk Combined Authority, before it was 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.
Suffolk County Council's plans for a county-wide deal have been supported by the constituent district councils with backing from its local MPs, although opposing a mayoral deal. Suffolk County Council signed a devolution agreement with the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities in December 2022, which included an Elected Leader who will lead the County Council. 
|Surrey||Surrey||Whilst not included in current plans, discussions are occurring between local authorities and the government on an eventual deal.|
|Warwickshire||Warwickshire||Whilst not included in current plans, discussions are occurring between local authorities and the government on an eventual deal.|
- Greater London Authority (which operates under different legislation).
- History of local government in England
- Local government in England
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- House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, July 2017