Surrey County Council is to embark on discussions with the government after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s announcement of a ‘Level 2 County Deal’ for Surrey in his Autumn Statement.
The proposed devolution plan aims to empower Surrey with strategic roles in delivering services, hosting government functions at a regional level, and addressing climate change initiatives.
The deal also includes local control over sustainable transport, investment spending, and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
Critically, the invitation does not impose structural reforms or necessitate the appointment of a directly-elected mayor, ensuring Surrey’s 12 councils, including district and borough councils, maintain their sovereignty.
So what does Surrey get out of the County Deal?
Strategic role in delivering services:
- Host for Government functions best delivered at a strategic level involving more than one local authority e.g. Local Nature Recovery Strategies
- Opportunity to pool services at a strategic level,
- Opportunity to adopt innovative local proposals to deliver action on climate change and the UK’s Net Zero targets,
Supporting local businesses
- Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) functions including hosting strategic business voice,
Local control of sustainable transport
- Ability to introduce bus franchising,
- UK Shared Prosperity Fund planning and delivery at a strategic level (w.e.f. April 2025: District and Borough Councils will individually have control until then)
Giving adults the skills for the labour market
- Devolution of Adult Education functions and the core Adult Education budget
- Providing input into Local Skills Improvement plans
Local control of infrastructure decisions
- Homes England compulsory purchase powers (held concurrently)
Surrey County Council first told Prime Minister Boris Johnson in August 2021 it wanted to be considered as a pilot area for devolved powers – but was not one of the nine areas government invited in February 2022 to take part in the first phase of the 'County Deals' programme.
The county's Conservative-led county administration did not give up its hopes of a devolution deal, however, and was announced as part of the second phase by Chancellor, and South West Surrey MP, Jeremy Hunt in his Autumn Budget Statement.
Councillor Hannah Dalton, chair of Surrey Leaders’ group and leader of Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, said: “This is a great opportunity for Surrey, which I warmly welcome. The devolution of important functions to the county will, over time, support all our local Councils in their work of delivering for our residents.”
Councillor Tim Oliver, leader of Surrey County Council, said: “I have always been clear in my determination that the residents of Surrey will not be left behind, and this devolution deal with government is a step in the right direction in helping us achieve that ambition.
“Local government and our local communities are best placed to deliver what Surrey needs. I’m pleased that the government is recognising that, with hopefully further devolved powers to local government in due course.
“More control over things like local growth, skills and careers for our young people, lifelong learning provision, the climate agenda, local public transport, and housing, will enable the county council, and partners, to make positive change in Surrey.
“We look forward to working with the government, and with local partners like district and borough councils, businesses, and education providers, to maximise the opportunities this county deal presents for the benefit of all residents.
“This is a positive step in delivering more power to communities.”
In response to the invitation, work will continue with a range of key stakeholders, including the district and borough councils, businesses, LEPs, Further Education colleges and universities, bus companies, health agencies and other key stakeholders to build a consensus around a positive response to the opportunity to secure a devolution deal for Surrey.
As part of this, opportunities for potential onward devolution of functions from county council to district/borough councils will also be explored with the district and borough councils.
The counties that have been invited include single council areas, that do not have adjacent, neighbouring unitary authorities or ‘island’ unitary authorities within their boundaries. As such they are not in a position to form Mayoral or County Combined Authorities, which are alternative structures for securing County Deals.
The Levelling Up White Paper published in February 2022, set out three levels of devolution. A ‘Level 2’ County Deal does not require there to be a Directly Elected Person, and excludes certain powers reserved to Mayoral and Combined Authority areas.
Government officials have expressed an interest in learning about any additional functions local areas would wish to see devolved over the longer term, the Government have made it clear that in the interests of making progress, the Level 2 County Deals being offered will only include the powers outlined above.