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English metro mayors given new powers and financial freedom

Mayors of England’s two biggest city regions outside London have been granted greater financial flexibility in the Budget as well as new powers in sectors including transport, housing and skills.

The deals follow months of negotiations between the central government and the mayors of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, following a commitment in last year’s levelling up white paper to grant them extra powers.

Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham and West Midlands’ Andy Street had argued that further control over infrastructure investment and skills provision was crucial to boosting growth in their city regions.

They have secured “single pots” of flexible funding that cover policy areas key to growth, reducing the need to bid for individual grants from Whitehall. Both areas will retain 100 per cent of their business rates over the next decade, worth an estimated £450mn in the West Midlands.

Street will also create six “levelling up zones”, backed by 100 per cent business rate retention for 25 years, against which he can borrow for infrastructure investment.

In return, the mayors have agreed to appear in front of new scrutiny sessions of MPs, which will hold them accountable for their decisions and progress in the two regions.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the greater financial flexibility provided by the deals would come into effect from the next spending review, expected next year, and that it was something he intended “to roll out for all mayoral areas over time”.

Street will also receive up to £500mn to clean up brownfield land for housebuilding and an initial £60mn towards extending the region’s tram network beyond Dudley.

Both Street and Burnham will gain further powers over local adult skills provision, seen as crucial to matching up the local workforce with growth sectors, plus the ability to set the direction of their part of the government’s national affordable housing programme.

Street described the deal as a “major step forward” for his region, adding: “As those closest to the on-the-ground realities and the local people they serve, there is no doubt in my mind that we should be the ones shaping the region’s future.”

In Greater Manchester, the government also committed to integrating regional rail services — which are outside of the mayor’s control — with locally run tram and bus networks by 2030 and will provide £150mn towards cleaning up brownfield land for at least 7,000 new homes.

Burnham called the deal a “significant breakthrough”, adding: “Today is a new era for English devolution.”

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