Devolution: Scrutiny 1, EDDC Leader and CEO own goal

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

and here