Sunday, 6 December 2015

Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> >>> >>> >>> >>> of Local Enterprise Partnerships and 'what happens when a lobby group of landowners and developers gains too much influence over the democratic planning process'

The District Council presented its report on devolution to the Scrutiny Cttee last Wednesday:
Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> Scrutiny Cttee to give District Council Leader power to sign devolution bid >>> Weds 2nd Dec

The Devolution Debate for the Heart of the South West. 

02 December 2015 

Purpose of report: 
To report back on discussions to date regarding possible devolution of powers to the Heart of the South West and to seek approval to the next step 

1. That members note the progress to date regarding the devolution debate 
2. That the Leader have delegated authority to sign the proposed Devolution Bid on behalf of EDDC Reason for recommendation: The Leader and CEO, together with the Leaders and CEOs of the various authorities within the Heart of the South West area, have been debating the possible content of a devolution bid to Government. The next stage in the process is to submit the bid by the 18th December. As the final version of the bid has not yet been finalised, delegated authority is required. 

Officer: Mark Williams, Chief Executive

Report to: Cabinet - Joint Overview & ScrutinyCommittees- 02 December 2015 
Scrutiny Committee minutes for 2 December 2015 - East Devon

The project is highly political.

Firstly, there are concerns about the democratic legitimacy of the project:
Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> "politics is not working – a political imperative on all of us to seek proper devolution"

Secondly, there are concerns that it will be led by 'big business' representatives:
Futures Forum: Devolution, Local Enterprise Partnerships & accountability

There has been more comment subsequently.

Firstly, District Councillors were able to question the CEO on the project - as reported here on the EDW blog:


5 DEC 2015

Mark Williams, CEO of East Devon District Council, was given a rough ride by majority and opposition Party Councillors alike, following his presentation this week (Weds 2nd Dec), to the District Council’s two watchdog committees.

The combined Overview and Scrutiny Committees (O&S) met to find out what lies at the heart of the Heart of the South West (HOTSW) devolution bid, shortly to be sent to Westminster.

Mr Williams compared the devolution bid to a train just starting on its journey from the heart of South West to London. But one Tory Councillor warned the CEO, “Before we get to Exeter, the lines may be broken because we’ll have run out of money”.

(There’s a summary of the presentation in our earlier post http://eastdevonwatch.org/2015/12/03/devolution-eddc-ceo-asks-us-to-trust-him-and-diviani/ )

After hearing it, the O&S Councillors expressed three areas of major concern:

1. Finance
2. Health service provision
3. Governance

Here is a sample of their questions to Mark Williams (MW) with some answers received:

Cllr Roger Giles (Ind, Ottery St Mary Town): Has any attempt been made to assess the cost savings of devolution?

MW : “No. It’s too early.” He went on to add, “We all know there is waste in (any) system” and “It’s better to have shared outcomes for a hope of savings.”

RG: “Has there been any estimate of officer time?”

MW: “No.”

Cllr Alison Greenhalgh (Con, Exmouth Littleham): “How do we make a decision about governance?“

MW replied that he thinks the bid will be for a combined authority, though “the Government will struggle to understand” why a mayor is not appropriate for this region.

Cllr Marianne Rixson (IEDA, Sidmouth,Sidford ), referring to other enterprise zones asked, “ What’s the certainty of us being successful against bids from elsewhere?”

MW: HOTSW “can operate independently from enterprise zones.”

MR also wanted to know “how financially viable are the councils involved?”

MW referred the point to Ian Baker, of the South West Audit Partnership (SWAP), who confirmed that at a recent seminar attended by Cllr Rixson, a representative of external auditors Grant Thornton had warned that SOME councils are due to go bust by 2020.

Cllr Peter Faithfull (Independent, Ottery St Mary Town) made the point that Councillors are “still largely in the dark”. “Can we have an independent observer, to understand what’s going on in (HOTSW) meetings?” We only get feedback AFTERWARDS, he said.

MW: There is “no need” to have an impartial report.

RG: Can the public attend?

MW: No. They are private meetings.

Cllr Mike Allen (Con, Honiton St Michael’s) had a barrage of questions: “Where is the money going to come from for business support?” How would the retraining of older people work? “How will infrastructure for planning issues get financed?” “Where is the money going to come from, for example, for schools?”

MW: There is money, but it gets lost in the system.

Matt Booth (Ind, Sidmouth Town ) asked “How much of health service will be outsourced to private businesses?” and wondered what would be the knock-on effect on health services already facing further cuts. He also wanted to know “Where do Neighbourhood Plans fit into the HOTSW devolution bid, in terms of protecting areas?”

MW : “Neighbourhood Plans (NPs) will continue irrespective.” But he was not sure that those preparing the NPs “would see the opportunity of tapping into growth possibilities”.

Cllr Ben Ingham( IEDA, Woodbury &Lympstone), citing the “complete lack of control in recent years regarding health care”, said that HOTSW’s 5 year view for ‘health & wellbeing’, is “just pie in the sky”. “We are being given an option we know nothing about”, he continued. “Are we being given a hospital pass?”

MW replied that Manchester, for example, has received invitations to develop a plan for integrating health and social care. And Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) have been present at two HOTSW meetings, although “I don’t think they were committing themselves,” he mentioned….. leaving some people wondering, if CCG were not cooperative, would this kill the bid?

(More to follow…)

That Devolution meeting part 2: the dark gets darker | East Devon Watch

Secondly, there has been more comment on the Sidmouth pages of Streetlife:

Sidmouth Herald page 24

Pining Lass  in Sidmouth
Amongst other things of interest in the Herald this week I was intrigued to see that the EDDC is intending to go for devolution.

How would this work? Will they become independent of DCC as well as government? Is it an attempt to avoid being lost due to local government reorganisation? How can they give Mr Diviani authority to sign on their behalf when the terms have not been finalised?

Surely giving him such power is undemocratic?
    Peter S
    They are looking into joining up as a group of South West Councils, to be able to have a more powerful voice in Westminster and perhaps in the future take on more rolls from central government.
    As for the authority for the leader, this is only to look at proposals, not authorise decisions, this is done by each council leader, remember that all the other councils will be in the same position, and the decisions will be made by every council at their full council meetings, by all sitting councillors.
    I do not see anything wrong with looking at different ideas on how our local councils are run, whose to say that in the future we are looking after more of our own affairs instead of centrally. 
    Almost agree with you Petere, except that the bigger you get, the more you are divorced from" Local". We either need central government or really local government (Town/ urban/ Rural District level) and not a hybrid (district) level
    Pining Lass
    Peter, I am only going on what is reported in the Herald.

    The way it was written gave the impression that all EDDC councillors were being asked to give Diviani power to speak for the council in this, even though there was no agreement as to what this is or would be. Which I find worrying.
    Peter S

    If you look at Cornwall, they still have their local Councils, some with more responsibility, but as this is at a embryonic stage, I would suggest there is a long way and time to go.


    As we all know with the press, sometimes they put articles together to get a reaction.
    As the Leader it is his role, to speak for the council, even if the individual is not liked, and if this did happen who's to say it will be the same individual in that role.

    Until we know more, I personally will keep an open mind.
    Richard E
    This is about devolving decision-making powers and budgets from Westminster to regional authorities and local politicians.

    This is fine in principle, but frankly there is not much to choose between someone in Plymouth deciding what happens to Sidmouth and someone in Whitehall - neither will know the circumstances of our town.

    In fact the politician in Plymouth is probably more likely to try and snatch 'our' money and spend it in his patch.

    The only way forward in my view is to let Sidmouth people decide what happens in Sidmouth, which means a greatly empowered Town Council.    Eliminating the District tier of local government would save a lot of money, but it will only work if powers are devolved to town and parish councils.
    Gordonius Maximus
    RE it is not just your opinion, I for one am in full agreement with you and I am sure there are many more Sidmouth Residents who feel the same. There have been many incidences of EDDC making decisions about Sidmouth when it was clear it was a Town issue and not an East Devon issue. Also your point re Plymouth and Westminster i very valid.
    Fair point well made hibou.
    The problem PS is when you enlarge you dilute, the bigger you are the harder you fall and likewise the larger you grow the thinner you spread yourself, there are many National/International Businesses that can attest to that.
    PL I think Mr Diviani is thinking of Mr Diviani.
    Peter S

    Don't know where Plymouth came into this, no one has mentioned any particular location, or what the full idea is behind this, we can speculate as much as we like, but I would like to know more specifics, before we set the hares running.
    Gordonius Maximus
    PS.................I think you need to address this comment to Richard E first and not me, Richard mentioned Plymouth. If you read RE's comment again you will see that it was meant as an analogy, it would not of made any difference to his comment if he had put Torquay, Barnstaple or Widecombe on the Moor. His point was, take issues out of the area it is the voice that shouts the loudest that will get things done for their area first. Someone has to prioritise and those areas that have the higher proportional representation will always come out on top. It is only human nature to look after your own first as I think we see with our present EDDC.
    Richard E

    Indeed - I wasn't referring specifically to Plymouth, but generally to politicians who are more local to us than those in London, but in terms of their knowledge of our town, are just as remote.   Furthermore, they have no interest in the well being of Sidmouth - their instinct is that any money spent in Sidmouth is money denied to their own community.

    It could be argued that Sidmouth has more chance of getting funding from Whitehall than from a regionally-based authority.  I am reminded that the South West Regional Development Agency is not remembered for its contribution to our town.
    Gordonius Maximus
    Peter the Hares are already running (rumours in the paper! no smoke without fire) we the Hounds have to keep or the Hares will get away and we will go hungry again.
    Peter S
    On this occasion I will be a tortoise, and let the hares run around in ever decreasing circles and making loud noises. 👀
    Liz S
    It is interesting that Peter completely misunderstood Richard's comment as, I think, do many people. Our local (district) politicians seem to think nothing will change and indeed keep saying this. But if that were the case, why would they do this at all? SOMETHING must be changing, so what exactly is it?
    Peter S
    Liz S

    I have not misunderstood anything that Richard E has posted, in fact I agree with a lot of what he is saying, I am at a loss with your interpretation, especially when I have said that I need more factual information before coming to a decision.
    Liz S
    But tht's the point isn't it - we will not be getting more factual information. Next week EDDC cabinet is going to vote to give Mr Williams permission to do whatever he likes in their name about devolution. Looking at the papers for the public on the EDDC website, all we get is a copy of a glossy brochure from the Local Enterprise Partnership, which is heavy on jargon and buzzwords and light on REAL information.

    And still I ask: if devolution isn't going to change anything at local level why are EDDC pressing ahead with it! What is in it for them and is it the same as what's in it for us?

    Surely this is at least big enough for a referendum. So far, no- one has consulted us, though given what passes for consultation perhaps we should save the bother.
    Peter S
    Liz S

    If you have read all the documents, I agree not a lot of information, but it is only a statement of intent between 20+ different organisations.
    Each one will have their own ideas, and be looking at the outcome for all their customers in the areas they cover.
    Many people have in the past vociferously complained that they have not been told about what is happening, some have even used the 'secret'' word, well what we have here is an opportunity to be informed from the start.
    As for your thoughts on giving an individual carte blanche to do as they want, you are so wrong in your interpretation, as in any large business the board will give the Chair / CEO permission to investigate further, then bring it back for futher discussion, if you have read it all you will have noticed a working party has been set up, made up of a mix of political groups and even a Sidmouth Councillor.
    At the moment there is nothing to consult about, no decisions are being made, just an authority to look at the ideas. 
    Pining Lass
    I am confused about it all.

    In my mind there is an hierarchy, town to district to county to national; so how can the lower echelons band together to form something which is higher than the band above?

    If that is how it works then all the counties could band together to over-rule the national government.

    I am against districts banding together because, with all due respect to our councillors, they are generally not of the caliber of those further up the political tree. They seem to struggle in many cases to understand the constraints and responsibilities of the level they have now reached, how would they cope with more complexity and the needs of a more diverse and far reaching geographical area?
    Richard E

    I don't think you should be too alarmed - this is just local authorities in our region getting together to lobby Westminster for money.
    But it is another quango, which will require its own bureaucracy and secretariat.
    The problem is that these initiatives always cost a lot of money, and send out confusing signals.  They normally end up in conflict with each other and there are the inevitable turf wars and personality clashes.
    Most people agree that we would be better off with just two tiers of local government, but now we are faced with five:  Parish or town, District, Greater Exeter, Devon County, and now a LEP-based regional authority.   All this is very costly and inefficient, and meanwhile front-line services are being cut.
    Having said that, it is important for councils to cooperate with each other - I just wish they could do it without all the fanfare, mission statements, acronyms, headed notepaper, etc.
    Tony G
    While we would all agree with the Heart of the South West (HoTSW) Local Enterprise Partnership’s laudable aim of improving prosperity in the region, there are reasons to be cautious.

    This “devolution” is being rushed through by central government, and risks transferring control over spending large sums of taxpayers’ money from elected representatives to unelected businessmen.

    HoTSW’s ambitious targets seem to depend on two developments that threaten the unique landscape and environment of the south-west and our crucial tourist industry.

    They hope that the fall-out (!) from the Franco-Chinese construction of Hinkley C nuclear power station will spread prosperity among local companies.

    And they project a massive 50% increase in the rate of housebuilding.

    Is it significant that EDDC Leader Paul Diviani, who helped to inflate housing targets in our Local Plan, will have some responsibility for the subject at HoTSW?

    Our district already has had painful experience of what happens when a lobby group of landowners and developers gains too much influence over the democratic planning process. The East Devon Business Forum (2004-14) was a mere local minnow compared with the regional whale that seems to be emerging!

    These links give some idea of the priorities of HoTSW Local Enterprise Partnership.


    Pining Lass
    Although I thank Richard for telling me not to panic I do find the second link from Tong G worrying.

    How are they intending to reduce the train times from Plymouth to London from 3-4 hour to less than two and a half hours in only 15 years? If the trains didn't stop between Plymouth and London you could do it tomorrow :-)

    The rest of their aspirations are similarly daft.

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