Monday, 7 December 2015

Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> Scrutiny Cttee declines to give District Council Leader power to sign devolution bid >>> postponed to full Council 16th Dec

Plans for some sort of 'devolution' for parts of the West Country are encountering a few questions: 
Futures Forum: 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'

These concerns are being expressed across the region:

... arrangements concerning two tiers of local government - such as that proposed by Devon and Somerset councils - present unique challenges in terms of accountability and coordination.
'No appetite' for mayors in Cornwall as devolution debate continues | Western Morning News

In our area a bid is being put together combining two counties (Devon and Somerset), two unitary authorities (Torbay and Plymouth) and 15 district councils including Teignbridge. We have a history of working well together on infrastructure projects but devolution of infrastructure, health and social care and their associated budgets will only work if there is functional integration across authorities to avoid duplication.
The Westminster Week | Mid-Devon Advertiser

Senior North Devon councillors cross swords over ‘double devolution’ - News - North Devon Gazette
Westcountry Tory MP calls for greater clarity around devolution | Western Morning News

In East Devon, the District Council's Scrutiny Cttee has asked for clarification:
Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> Scrutiny Cttee to give District Council Leader power to sign devolution bid >>> Weds 2nd Dec

Indeed, the Cttee has refused to give delegated authority to the Leader in negotiations - but has said it should wait for a full Council meeting:


7 DEC 2015

As Owl has already hooted, the Tory Government, for ideological reasons, is very keen to devolve some power over public spending to new regional bodies.

Local authorities in Devon and Somerset- including EDDC- have responded enthusiastically setting up a consortium, the Heart of the South-West (HotSW) to bid for more power to spend central government money.

But critics believe that the Government wants to boost local productivity by letting rip construction, housebuilding, and manufacturing, and by encouraging the selling off of public assets to be more economically exploited by the “free market”. Farming, tourism, and renewable energy seem low priorities. Climate change and the environment seem hardly to figure as concerns.

The negotiations at HotSW involve a business organisation, the Local Enterprise Panel, (LEP) but it’s difficult to know exactly who calls the tune, because the meetings so far have been closed to press and public and no minutes are published. A draft bid is almost ready and is intended to be sent to Whitehall before Christmas.

EDDC representative on HotSW is Council Leader Paul Diviani, and, true to form, a recommendation was about to be slipped through for Cabinet approval, to give Cllr Diviani delegated authority to agree to whatever bid HotSW comes up with!

But thanks to the insistence of Chair of the Scrutiny Committee , Independent Cllr Roger Giles, the context of the recommendation was openly discussed first, at a special meeting (Combined Overview & Scrutiny) called in the nick of time, just hours before the Cabinet meeting last Wednesday (2nd Dec).

The meeting began with a presentation by EDDC Chief Officer Mark Williams, which confirmed that the thrust of HotSW was to boost the local economy by expanding construction, industry and commerce – productivity was too low, he said, because there were a lot of old people in the area! The new digital economy would benefit from better training and apprenticeships, especially “Greater Exeter” (including part of East Devon).

Councillors were sceptical. Tory Mike Allen said HotSW negotiations should be more transparent, and Independent Cllr Rob Longhurst followed up his idea, putting forward the motion that a group of councillors with appropriate responsibilities should be kept informed of developments and consulted before decisions were made.

This was accepted, and it was also proposed that no delegated authority should be given to the Leader until the Full Council Meeting on 16th December, by which time all councillors would be sent a copy of the bid.

A triumph for transparency? Not quite— the bid will still not be put in the public domain before it goes to Westminster.

EDW note: Two previous posts on the subject here http://eastdevonwatch.org/2015/12/03/devolution-eddc-ceo-asks-us-to-trust-him-and-diviani/

and here http://eastdevonwatch.org/2015/12/05/that-devolution-meeting-part-2-the-dark-gets-darker/

Devolution: Scrutiny 1, EDDC Leader and CEO own goal | East Devon Watch
East Devon Watch - Facebook

The minutes are not available yet:
Scrutiny Committee minutes for 2 December 2015 - East Devon
Overview Committee minutes for 2 December 2015 - East Devon

Although the Cabinet, which met shortly after the Scrutiny/Overview Cttees met, does have its minutes ready:

Heart of the South West Devolution 

A joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees meeting had been held earlier in the afternoon and their recommendations circulated to Cabinet. 

The report of the Chief Executive advised members of discussions to date regarding possible devolution of powers to the Heart of the South West (included Devon County, Somerset County, Plymouth City and Torbay) and sought approval for the next step. The presentation given to parish, town and district delegates the previous evening had been circulated to all Members prior to today’s meeting. Of particular note was the aim to develop a local solution to deliver better services compared with the current centralised approach. This would help achieve ‘joined up’ delivery of services, such as health and social care, built around people and the places where they live. The delivery would have improved regulation with embedded prevention, support and self-management and financial sustainability to achieve best use of resources. Strategic Planning, for example in flood prevention and in provision of affordable housing would be based on local issues and solutions. 

The Statement of Intent issued from the Heart of the South West area in September had been sent to all Members together with subsequent updates on progress. A key issue highlighted was that the Heart of the South West was seeking to achieve consensus and to ensure that all areas would benefit. 

Councillor Moulding, Portfolio Holder – Strategic Development and Partnerships updated Members on joint discussions already undertaken with South West authorities and key priorities. He spoke of the need for health and public welfare reforms and the particular concerns regarding the demographic of this area with its ageing population. Devolution was not just about economic growth and opportunity. The Council also needed to be mindful of its leadership role within the South West, the ambition for growth and the contribution that the Heart of the South West would make to the national economy. Investment in the future would include important infrastructure improvements. He applauded the statement of intent which the partnership would build - it was vital to get this early stage right. 

The report was further debated and points made included: 
 The election of a Mayor covering such a wide area was not supported. 
 Devon County Council and Somerset County Council were not providing adequate care in the community. Even a 2% increase in the Council Tax would not cover the cost of care. 
 The loss of funds to Community Colleges including the apprentice levy. 
 The need to get set up a proper dialogue between employers and schools/colleges before students make their subject choices at 14. 
 Transport issues – public transport does not always provide students with a link from their community to the college of their career choice. 
 How will academies fit in the plans – these are currently under the direct control of Government rather than County Councils? 
 The Council must represent its residents in the best way that it can – but will this be possible when there is potentially going to be more influence from Counties? 
 The demographics of the area – older population, medical advances, retirement incomes. Devon County Council should invite Devon Senior Voice to contribute to the debate. 
 Developers of private sheltered housing should be asked to make a Section 106 contribution to social and health care. 
 It would be helpful to refer the report to the Audit and Governance Committee for consideration of governance issues arising from devolution. 
 Economic growth was essential for delivering benefits to the area – including health and social care provision. 
 It was important not to assume that this area would remain one of comparative low wages in perpetuity – the devolution initiative needed to address this perception. 
 Work needs to be carried out with the universities in the region to help retain the skills and help build a knowledge economy. 
 Connectivity does not just mean super-fast broadband but also significantly improved transport links.  Need to take into account genetic analysis in local hospitals. 
 Is there a danger that this could be an additional layer of government? Could very local input be lost as a result? It was important to communicate reassurances. 
 The importance of prevention was highlighted – the Council would want to drive this approach. 

In summing up, Councillor Moulding said that the comments would be taken into account at the detailed stage. At this point, the Council was agreeing to a strategic approach with key objectives being used as building blocks. In supporting the bid at this early stage, the Council was not making a commitment other than to continue in the process. 

Councillor Ian Thomas, Portfolio Holder – Finance, read out and proposed the five recommendations of the Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees. The proposals were seconded by Councillor Tom Wright followed by a unanimous vote. 

1. that clear objectives be set in preparation for negotiation if the bid proves successful in reaching Government discussion; 
2. that an oversight group be set up of Portfolio Holders and appropriate members to follow the process of the bid; 
3. that the work and the process to date be noted; 
4. that the Leader be given delegated authority to sign the proposed Devolution Bid on behalf of EDDC subject to ratification of Council on 16 December 2015; 
5. that an element of rural proofing is put forward for inclusion in the draft bid. 

the Leader and Chief Executive, together with the Leaders and Chief Executive Officers of the various authorities within the Heart of the South West area, had been debating the possible content of a devolution bid to Government. The next stage in the process was to submit the bid by the 18 December 2015.

EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCILMinutes of the meeting of Cabinet - 2 December 2015
Council council agendas - East Devon

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