Thursday, 6 July 2017

Devolution deals 'mixed and inconclusive'

The whole 'devolution' thing is rather confusing:
Futures Forum: The promises of devolution in the South West

We have the unitary authority emerging next door in Dorset - but it's all mixed up with the austerity agenda:
Futures Forum: 'The Christchurch question' >>> 'Austerity has made local government financially unviable. Radical reorganisation may be the only answer.'
Futures Forum: Dorset going unitary 'will help protect the frontline services' >>> 'Economies of scale now seem to require mergers or abolition of districts.'

Then there is the 'Greater Exeter' thing happening too:
Futures Forum: Greater Exeter by stealth
Futures Forum: Exeter and a 'super council' >>> "Any new proposals for local government must be fully consulted on and that whatever structure emerges must be transparent and accountable to local people."

With the HeartoftheSouthWest LEP project not happening very much at all:
Futures Forum: Greater Exeter forges ahead as "the epicentre of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership"
Futures Forum: Devolution and Local Enterprise Partnerships >>> "unaccountable to anyone and unrepresentative of the local economy"

Meanwhile, though, the East Devon Watch blog has been asking a few questions:


6 July 2017

The “Golden Triangle LEP” comprising of Exeter, Plymouth and Torbay appears to have disappeared into a Bermuda Triangle – see here for some not-so-encouraging old information on it:

However, word reaches Owl that someone, somewhere, has dredged it up from the deep again and it might be resurfacing some time later this month. Watch this very empty space.

As for the “Greater Exeter Strategic Plan”, in which East Devon is a partner, now that the initial “consultation” has ended, that seems to have returned to the bowels of the basement of Exeter City Council until “early 2018” (maybe):

The initial consultation was on “Issues”. There is now an issue on if/when the issues feedback turns up.

“Golden Triangle” and “Greater Exeter Strategic Partnership” – anyone had an update? | East Devon Watch

As for the mysteries around the Local Enterprise Partnership and its Heart of the SouthWest project, there are still more questions:
LEP – who will be to blame if things go pear-shaped? | East Devon Watch
Final big nail in Heart of the Southwest Local Enterprise Partnership coffin? | East Devon Watch
Hinkley C escalating costs – do we have too many LEP eggs in the Hinkley C basket? | East Devon Watch

The National Audit Office has been making similar points - although its emphasis is on 'economic growth':
Futures Forum: "The solely economic focus of devolution – and the corresponding lack of attention to the democracy of devolution."

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 6 July 2017:

For combined authorities to deliver real progress and not just be another ‘curiosity of history’ like other regional structures before them, they will need to demonstrate that they can both drive economic growth and also contribute to public sector reform.

Progress in setting up combined authorities - National Audit Office (NAO)

This is how the Public Finance website is reporting things:

Combined authorities risk ‘becoming a curiosity of history’

Mark Smulian 6 Jul 17

The six mayor-led combined authorities risk becoming “a curiosity of history” as there is little evidence to back their assumption that devolution will improve local economies.

That is among findings by the National Audit Office in a report Progress in Setting Up Combined Authorities.

Parliament’s spending watchdog said the six – Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and West of England– could have been joined by other areas but these had “been unable to bring local authorities together to establish combined authorities”.

The NAO said there was “a logic to establishing strategic bodies designed to function across conurbations and sub-regional areas, and there is a clear purpose to establishing combined authorities especially in metropolitan areas, as economies and transport networks operate at a scale greater than individual local authority areas”.

Most combined authority proposals were put to the government on the basis that they would deliver more rapid economic growth by spending money and exercising powers locally.

But the NAO noted the combined authorities were “inherently complex structures” and evidence that investment, decision-making and oversight at this level was linked to improved local economic results was “mixed and inconclusive”.

It said combined authorities “often assume in their plans that there is a strong link between investment in transport and economic growth, for example”, but evidence on the additional value that governance at this level can bring to economic growth is mixed, the NAO said.

It was also concerned that combined authorities’ administrative boundaries do not necessarily match functional economic areas, or the existing boundaries of local enterprise partnerships.

“We assessed combined authorities’ draft monitoring and evaluation plans, and found that while they are working to link spending with outcomes and impact, they vary in quality, and measures tend to vary depending on data already available,” the report said.

Despite this, the combined authorities’ economic regeneration role “would become more pressing” if Brexit leads to reductions in regional funding at present received from the European Union.

Combined authorities “are generally in areas which receive the most EU funding”, it noted.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: “For combined authorities to deliver real progress and not just be another 'curiosity of history' like other regional structures before them, they will need to demonstrate that they can both drive economic growth and also contribute to public sector reform."

The County Councils Network strongly opposed the government’s requirement for elected mayors to lead combined authorities – and only Cambridgeshire and Peterborough involves a county council.

CCN director Simon Edwards, said: “This report from the NAO highlights many of the concerns the majority of CCN members raised over the prospect of mayoral combined authorities in county areas: an added layer of bureaucracy in an already complex landscape, a lack of co-terminosity with key public sector partners, and questions over whether this format would lead to economic growth in rural areas."

Combined authorities risk ‘becoming a curiosity of history’ | Public Finance

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