Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> "but it is certainly not democracy"

It seems that Devon and Somerset are to 'get closer':
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and the longer-term demise of district councils >>> Devon and Somerset to merge?

And it is not just this blog which has noted how this might impinge upon the East Devon District Council's plans to relocate:


4th September 2015

Style over substance or the real thing? You decide:


So, about that EDDC new HQ ……

Devolution: Devon and Somerset letter of intent sent today | East Devon Watch

Here are the press releases from Devon County Council:
Devolution | Democracy in Devon

This is the latest from the Western Morning News:

West councils bid to wrest power from Westminster

By WMNLParks | Posted: September 05, 2015 By Liz Parks

Councils and national parks from across the Westcountry have joined forces to demand that Westminster gives the region more power.

Devon and Somerset county councils, Plymouth City Council, Torbay Council and the 13 district councils have all submitted a statement of intent to the Government. They have been joined by Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership which represents businesses and councils.

The statement is in response to the Government’s offer to devolve power and budgets from Westminster to local authorities which work together.

The Chancellor gave England’s local areas until Friday to submit bids for new powers, as the Government seeks to push control over key services and economic development out of London. But Mr Osborne said he would only devolve money and power to other big cities if they agreed to create an elected mayor, covering the wider city region. It is not known if this would be a requirement for a more rural area like the South West. 

The final details of any agreements will be formally negotiated before the spending review on November 25.

The Devon and Somerset document sets the scene for discussions with Government about what powers could be devolved and will be followed up with more detailed proposals.

Devon County Council leader John Hart said: “It is really important that we present a united front to the Government and we have achieved a high level of agreement on the key issues affecting the South West. I have always said that we can do things more effectively and more efficiently locally than being told what to do by London. We are saying to government: ‘You devolve and we’ll deliver’.

“These are very early stages but we are ambitious and we believe that devolution would help us create jobs, build the right infrastructure and make progress on key issues like health and social care integration. We have shared goals with our partners and will be working very closely with them in the coming weeks and months to move things forward.”

Plymouth City Council leader Tudor Evans said: “As a region we are already developing stronger relationships through ambitious and far-reaching schemes such as the City Deal and the Peninsula Rail Taskforce. This statement is about telling government we want to have some serious conversations about the issues that are important to all of us. The skills we need here to make sure our economy is strong and our businesses thrive, for instance, is something we need to look at.

“We all want to make sure local people have the right skills to gain well-paid employment and believe the right power and funding to target this can make a difference. This is about creating the space for collaborative working across the Heart of the South West LEP area – to benefit the people living here.”

Torbay Mayor Gordon Oliver said: “Working together is the way forward. Devolution will ensure that we have greater control to make the right choices to improve the lives of our residents. It will give us the opportunity to make decisions locally - specifically around the three main points. It is vital that we all pull together and provide a strong, unified approach. Torbay is committed to working with our partners to develop devolution proposals in this region.”

Somerset County Council leader John Osman said: “A lot of authorities have done a lot of work in a very short time to prepare this document - that’s another example of what can be achieved when authorities in the region pull together where we have common ground.”

The Statement of Intent is now available on the council’s website www.devon.gov.uk 

Devon Somerset George Osborne devolution | Western Morning News
Devon and Somerset in devolution move to the government - BBC News

With comment from the Local Government Chronicle:

Counties leap aboard devolution train

8 September, 2015 | By Mark Smulian

Two relatively late arrivals on the devolution stage have put expressions of interest to ministers.

A statement of intent has been signed by Devon and Somerset CCs; their districts; Plymouth City Council; Torbay Council; the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, and Exmoor and Dartmoor national park authorities.

It seeks devolution to promote economic growth, health and social care integration and greater local control over spending on infrastructure and resilience.

The latter is seen as a significant issue following floods last year that severed the only rail link between Plymouth and Exeter.

There was little progress on devolution until Somerset leader John Osman (Con) convened a meeting of south-west council leaders last month.

He said: “These are very early stages, but we are ambitious and believe that devolution would help us create jobs, build the right infrastructure and make progress on key issues like health and social care integration.”

Counties leap aboard devolution train | News | Local Government Chronicle

Meanwhile, serious questions have been raised about how 'democratic' all this 'devolution' really is:

England’s new devolution settlement may be marketed as devolution, but it is certainly not democracy

By Democratic Audit UK 08/09/2015

The previous Coalition government talked a lot about localism, and the current majority Conservative government has made progress on its ‘northern powerhouse’ agenda. Now, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is going through parliament. Laird Ryan casts an eye over the current state of policy and the debate, and asks who’s likely to benefit, who isn’t, and what’s been happening around the country, and concludes that while the new settlement may be devolution in name, it is not democracy in practice.

Manchester Canal (Credit: Mike Mniec, CC BY 2.0)

For almost a year, LocalismWatch has been trying to make sense of the government’s stated desire to give local communities a greater say in local issues. Power centralised in Whitehall has historically been the default setting for British governance, so anything that promises change has to be taken seriously. But because the devolution project is being led by people with a proven interest in keeping strategic power close to Whitehall, its components and progress need closer examination. What’s on the table, and what isn’t? Who’s at the table, and who’s not? Who will make the final decisions? And what sort of landscape is likely to emerge when the bill gets Royal Assent?

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill completed its third reading in the House of Lords on 21 July and will be debated by MPs later this autumn. When we’ve cut a path through the legalese, the bill’s main objectives are:

To allow certain powers to be handed over from central government to someof England’s cities, urban areas and counties;
To permit the introduction of directly-elected ‘metro-mayors’ over combined authorities, and for mayors to replace Police and Crime Commissioners in those areas, should they wish;
To remove any current limitations on the powers of those local authorities (currently, they’re limited to economic development, regeneration and transport); and
To enable local governance to be streamlined in ways that are agreed by those councils.

The bill’s provisions are ‘generic’: in other words, they won’t be a one-size-fits-all. Instead, they’ll be tailor-made, imposed on specific areas by central government through Orders in Council. Most Whitehall watchers believe that the initial focus of devolution will be the Core Cities Group, a cartel dominated by England’s eight largest city economies outside London. The Core Cities secured ‘top-sliced’ central government funding in the first round of City Dealsunder the 2010-15 Coalition, to deliver locally-determined outcomes. England’s 20 ‘next tier’ urban areas had to wait for a second round of deals, allocated on less favourable terms. So it’s already clear that devolution, Conservative-style, has little to do with equal chances for all: the big boys still hold sway.

The bill, however, does allow for devolution to a single county or another large area that hasn’t got combined authority status, provided all the local councils are signed up. Crucially, though, the final decision rests with the Secretary of State, not local councils, on whether the deal should proceed.

During its passage in the Lords, peers made a few amendments to the bill. The package negotiated between George Osborne and Greater Manchester before the May election devolved health and social care responsibilities to the new combined authority, ending the idea of a truly National Health Service. Partly because of this, Lords secured additional safeguards, preventing the wholesale devolution of health functions away from the NHS. The successful extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year olds in last year’s Scottish IndyRef persuaded a majority of peers to support similar arrangements for metro-mayor elections.

There have also been worries that the bill concentrates too many powers in elected mayors, without appropriate checks and balances. Widespread local resistance to the mayoral model, not least in Manchester, helped the Lords to pass an amendment allowing combined authorities to choose alternative forms of governance. They did not, however, defeat the government in a vote for mayoral elections to be based on proportional representation, not first-past-the-post.

The government also held out against Labour and Lib Dem amendments permitting mayors and combined authorities to borrow and raise their own revenue. Clive Betts, who chairs the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, wants to table an amendment in the Commons, giving cities stronger fiscal powers. This is supported by the Local Government Association, as ‘fiscal devolution and proper consideration of fair funding is also required to ensure that public services are sustainable’.

That’s not to say that any of these amendments will still be included when the bill becomes law. George Osborne is a man on a mission, who wants to ‘fix the roof while the sun is shining’. His 2015 Spending Review, subtitled ‘a country that lives within its means’, talks of ‘putting Britain’s security first’, through ‘further savings to eliminate the deficit by 2019-20.’ The bulk of these, as we’ve previously highlighted, will be further cuts to public services, notably welfare.

But the Spending Review also claims that it needs ‘radical steps towards the devolution of power in the UK’, moving from ‘the imbalanced and overly-centralised system of government’ that the Tories inherited. If the basis of devolution is indeed to give local people a better say and a better deal, Osborne’s explicitly top-down approach is at best contradictory. It helps confirm LocalismWatch’s hypothesis that what’s really being devolved in Austerity Britain isn’t power, but blame.

To deliver the Spending Review, the Chancellor has asked Whitehall departments to ‘proactively consider what they can devolve and how they can facilitate public service integration’. Cities that are prepared to form City-regions with an elected mayor, and broker a Greater Manchester-style deal by the Spending Review on 25 November, were asked to ’submit formal, fiscally-neutral proposals and an agreed geography to the Treasury by 4 September’.

Ben Harrison of the Centre for Cities argues that because Osborne’s calling the shots, local leaders must directly challenge him on his terms to secure the best deals. This, Harrison considers, means embracing the mayoral model and asking the Chancellor to concede even more, for example, greater fiscal autonomy. From a top-down perspective, focused on transactional relationships between different layers of government, this seems entirely plausible. But the remit of elected members is – and needs to be – far more nuanced, organic, long term and broadly based. Even granted their basic right to independence of mind, the mandate of local leaders still has to reflect the distinctive social, economic and environmental make-up of the communities they represent.

The chancellor’s tight timescale for such a huge upheaval has prompted wide ranging responses across England. Although few details have emerged so far of the devolution submissions that cities and counties will be making, a trawl of local newspapers reveals a mixture of outward confidence, bravado, resistance and resignation.

The South West

In a separate development, the government granted Cornwall the first of its new county deals on 23 July, devolving powers over health and social care integration, bus services and economic development to the unitary council. However these fall short of the council’s ‘Case for Cornwall’ wish-list. It had also asked to use some locally-paid fuel duty to maintain roads; to retain a share of stamp duty to fund affordable housing; and take control of government land to provide social housing. Cornwall had also sought to re-invest income from Right to Buy sales to build new homes; greater influence in developing the power grid and geothermal energy; and more local control over coastal protection. Council leader John Pollard was nevertheless upbeat: “Cornwall’s devolution deal [can] provide a blueprint for other areas. This is no short term fix. We are serious about a different approach to economic growth and strong communities.”

Prompted by Cornwall’s success, representatives of 25 other South West councils attended a ‘devolution summit’ in Somerset on 3 August. The following week, the leader of Devon County Council announced that a joint ‘expression of interest’ would be progressed with Somerset County Council and its five district authorities, around economic development, skills and job creation. A separate devolution bid with similar themes is being pursued in Gloucestershire.

England’s new devolution settlement may be marketed as devolution, but it is certainly not democracy : Democratic Audit UK

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