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 https://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:
2. Health service provision
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?”
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…)