Saturday, 8 October 2016

Devolution 'myths' are not myths at all >>> excluding those 'left behind' and failing to 'take back control'

Those 'devolution deals' seem to have staled a little:
Futures Forum: Devolution, tourism and misplaced priorities in East Devon
Futures Forum: Devolution deals looking even more doubtful...

There is the notion in some quarters that positive times lie ahead:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and devolution: "Devolution is a great opportunity after years of oppressive centralisation"

Whereas others doubt the whole process:
Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> a call for public consultation and more concrete facts

Especially the role of the LEPs:
Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> as the counties are set to become a 'combined authority', a parliamentary committee says "It is alarming that Local Enterprise Partnerships are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency."

However, to assuage these concerns, the District Council will be holding a Member-only event on 20th October:
Devolution – ‘myth busting’ briefing -All Councillors 
Councillors to be told about devolution ” myths” | East Devon Watch

Which is exactly the same presentation as given to other authorities:
Devolution | Democracy in Devon
Plymouth City Council - Member briefings

However, not every Councillor sees devolution as their political leadership sees devolution:
Robert Vint | Facebook

As reported by the East Devon Watch blog:


23 SEPT 2016

From the Facebook page of Lib Dem Councillor for Totnes, Robert Vint:

“On Monday Devon County Councillors were presented with a “Myth Busting” training session on Devolution. On Thursday there was a repeat session for South Hams District Councillors.

The “Myths” they were attempting to “bust” were that the Devolution process was led by the LEP, was undemocratic, would result in local government reorganisation / centralisation etc.

The explanations – or non-explanations – only strengthened my concerns. It was confirmed that there would be no public consultation on the economic development plan but only on the Combined Authority proposal and that the LEP had played a central role.

I asked why the plan did not start by identifying local needs such as rural unemployment and affordable housing then consult communities and small businesses on how to tackle these problems. They said not to worry as this was an outline economic plan – but later they confirmed that there would be no consultation on the economic plan or any opportunity to change it.

We have a Devolution Prospectus written by the few big businesses in the LEP to serve their own needs rather than those of the wider community of Devon and Somerset. This has then been rubberstamped by local authorities who did not have the staff, time or vision to rewrite it to meet our real needs and who failed to consult residents and small and family businesses. As a result we will be subjected, without any opportunity to comment, to a local economic development strategy that will serve the wealthy rather than the majority and that will fail to provide jobs where they’re needed or houses to the people who need them most.

In contrast the RSA – Royal Society of Arts – outlines how we should be delivering genuine, fair and inclusive devolution (see below).

The UK’s economic status-quo has resulted in huge sections of our population being ‘left behind’. So the RSA are proposing a radical programme of devolution, inclusive industrial strategies and investment in human capital to create a more inclusive, equal society.

Only inclusive growth can ensure the UK works for everyone - RSA

Devolution “myths” not myths at all, says Devon County Councillor | East Devon Watch

In fact, as the EDW reblogs, the RSA and its Inclusive Growth Commission point out how those who have been 'excluded' are in danger of being 'left behind':
“Inclusive Devolution” | East Devon Watch
Inclusive Growth Commission: Emerging findings – Medium

It certainly doesn't mean we're 'taking back control':

Devolution doesn’t always mean taking back control

30 September 2016

Since Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, successive UK governments have fiddled around with ways of devolving power from Westminster and Whitehall. The most radical has been Scottish devolution, which continues to evolve. The least coherent has been the patchwork of schemes developed across England, ranging from a well-thought out arrangement for London, with a directly elected mayor and assembly, to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along “devolution deals” for the rest.

The coalition government of 2010-15 abolished – wisely – the regional governance bureaucracies. The first big replacement idea was Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), intended as “business-led” mechanisms for spending public money. The areas covered by LEPs were in some cases obvious, based for example on established city regions or former metropolitan counties. In others the rationale was less clear, perhaps nowhere more so than the Heart of the South West (HotSW) LEP, covering a massive area from Plymouth to the south of Bristol [1]. It’s tempting to think that after Cornwall decided to go their own way and Bristol wasn’t having any truck with its Somerset neighbours, that HotSW was the “bit left over”.

The performance of these fundamentally secretive and undemocratic bodies is not the focus of this post [2]. They are relevant because the LEP areas have in some cases – including HotSW – formed the basis of the subsequent devolution proposals in England.

The government has been inviting groups of local authorities to submit proposals for devolving decision-making in certain functions, particularly infrastructure and economic development, but not limited to these. The rationale behind this approach is that increasing productivity, a key goal of government policy, is best achieved by local targeting of support measures through local authorities and business interests working together. The government has made it clear that access to some central funding is dependent on devolution deals being agreed. Invariably, local authorities across the area commit to setting up a “combined authority” to take the decisions. Unlike London, this would not be directly elected but would be made up of the leaders of the constituent councils plus non-elected representatives of the NHS and the LEP. Initially, agreement to a having directly-elected mayor was a condition of a devolution deal but the government now seems to be less rigid on this.

One of the problems with this approach is that it was designed for large urban areas. Greater Manchester, for example, has operated as a partnership of councils across a coherent area since the 1960s when Passenger Transport Authorities were set up. Manchester is the trail-blazer in the current devolution game, and it clearly works for them.

What is less clear is that the combined authority structure will work well in those areas of England that aren’t part of a conurbation. A pretentious-sounding body called The Independent Commission on Economic Growth and the Future of Public Services in Non-Metropolitan England produced a report last year arguing for devolution deals for the rest of England [3]. It does make the useful point that LEP areas do not in most cases coincide with functional economic areas (a conclusion which should be enough to discredit the whole idea of LEPs), but is otherwise a typical product of this debate in that it focusses on structures and “partnerships” from which communities are largely excluded.

The councils within the HotSW area have submitted a devolution bid to the government [4]. The bid identifies 6 challenges for the area (low productivity growth, limited labour market, patchy performance in innovation and enterprise, an ageing population, health and care integration, infrastructure and connectivity) and 6 “Golden Opportunities” for improving growth and productivity (marine, nuclear, aerospace and advanced engineering, data analytics, rural productivity, health and care). The bid has a wholly economic focus: other than in references to care, the word “social” does not appear in the document, and there is no acknowledgement of the impacts of the plans on the natural environment.

If the bid succeeds – and at least some of the councils are treating the whole exercise with a degree of caution – decision-making on the plans and services covered by the bid will be sucked upwards from the councils and the people they represent. How the combined authority will balance the interests of, say, Plymouth with those of people in the Mendips will be discussed in officer-led groups behind closed doors – because that is the only way “partnership” working can be made to operate in practice. The need to prepare for joint meetings gives authority officers huge influence over agendas and decisions because of the need to coordinate positions and identify common solutions in advance of meetings.

The combined authority itself will be made up of leaders of the constituent councils and others. It will not be directly elected. Trying to influence its decisions will be next to impossible for individuals and community groups. The bid’s economic focus ignores environmental and community questions completely, so being able to provide a counter-balance is hugely important. As it is, the bid’s environmental credentials are defined by the partnership’s LEP-led role as a cheerleader for the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

Other devolution bids across England generate similar challenges. At a time when disillusion with our politics is at an all-time high, it is puzzling – to put it mildly – that decision-making is to move even further away from the people most affected


[1] The map of LEP areas at www.lepnetwork.net/the-network-of-leps/ shows just how large the area is.

[2] An excellent House of Commons briefing note (July 2016) provides a concise guide to LEPs including reviews of their performance – seewww.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn05651.pdf

[3] See www.local.gov.uk/non-met-commission

[4] The bid document is at https://new.devon.gov.uk/democracy/files/2016/01/Heart-of-the-South-West-Devolution-Prospectus.pdf

If devolution is the answer – what was the question? | East Devon Watch
Devolution doesn’t always mean taking back control | Peter Cleasby

This all seems to have a lot to do with expectations from before the referendum - and whether or not these are going to be fulfilled:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and devolution in the South West
Futures Forum: Brexit: and Local Enterprise Partnerships in the South West
Futures Forum: Brexit: and devolution: "The moment for building a genuine movement for constitutional change might just be arriving."
Futures Forum: Brexit: and local democracy ... of devolution and cuts in local government
Futures Forum: Brexit: and democracy: "Ordinary voters never took much interest. Perhaps they didn’t care whether they were ruled by a faraway elite in Brussels or ditto in Westminster."
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the art of 'subsidiarity': or how to devolve power

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