Councils in North Kent, the West Midlands and the West of England are today being given new freedoms and powers to work together to improve employment, skills, housing and transport in their regions, announced Communities Secretary John Denham.
The issues that affect people's lives like jobs and housing do not stop neatly at council boundaries. Councils increasingly need to join forces across their borders to mastermind regional solutions for getting more people back into work, raising skills levels, or developing new transport links. The Government is helping local authorities to work together to do this through new Multi-Area Agreements (MAAs).
Today councils are signing up to the next wave of MAAs - giving them new powers to devise their own plans and spend money as they see fit to tackle the most pressing issues in their regions and drive economic recovery.
The agreements will help thousands of people back into work, kick-start stalled housing developments, improve skills, and create first class transport links.
The latest wave of MAAs aim to:
- Reduce the number of people receiving out of work benefits;
- Increase the number of people with formal qualifications;
- Get work started again on stalled housing developments;
- Reducing carbon emissions by increasing the number of people who use public transport to get to and from work.
John Denham said:
"People live and work across different council boundaries and it is right that local authorities do the same. By working together on the pressing issues their regions face, councils can improve the way they deliver services and offer better value for money for the taxpayer.
"These agreements are giving councils new powers to help them work together to direct their spending and support where it is most needed and mastermind regional solutions.
"The priorities of local people will be at the heart of MAAs and the actions these councils are committing to today will help thousands of people back into work, and improve skills, public transport and housing.
"By joining forces through MAAs, councils will also avoid unnecessary duplication helping to ensure that taxpayers' money is being worked as hard as possible in the current climate."
Mr Denham today visited Dartford to sign the North Kent MAA with local council leaders. The ambitions for the area, which will be facilitated by the partnership, include supporting the delivery of 58,000 jobs and 52,000 new homes by 2026, and a major programme to cut carbon emissions by 16.7 per cent compared to levels in 2005 by making housing and transport more energy efficient.
As a result of their MAA, the North Kent partners will also now work with DfT and the Highways Agency to improve public transport so more people will use it to get to and from work. Changes to the local Fastrack bus service being considered include more dedicated bus lanes and providing electronic bus timetables directly into people's homes.
A further three MAAs covering Greater Blackpool (Fylde Coast), Liverpool and the Olympic host boroughs are expected to be signed in the coming weeks. This will take the number of council agreements to fifteen – covering more than a hundred councils.
Over the last decade, the Government has increasingly strengthened the powers councils have as part of a progressive devolution from Whitehall to the town hall. For example, councils now have three-year funding settlements, greater flexibility on how they spend money and fewer targets.