Councils across Devon and Somerset are on the verge of submitting a bid to government on devolving control and funding for some services to a local level.
On Thursday Devon County Council will debate a broadbrush bid that is set to be signed off by cabinet tomorrow.
This might sound like a very positive move, however, there are concerns. Mainly around transparency and consultation.
The government has decreed that the process must be “business led” which means that the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has been heavily involved in discussions on what will be included in the bid to central government.
The LEP meets in private and does not publish its minutes or agendas.
Councillors have not been involved in the process, save for the forthcoming agenda item coming to full council on Thursday.
There has been no public consultation.
In the paper that goes to full council on Thursday, the list of topics to be included in the bid are:
– Health, care and wellbeing
– Connectivity and resilience
– Housing and planning
– Employment and skills
– Business support
What is always true in my experience is that the devil is in the detail.
The bid must be with central government by 18 December.
Here’s a press release from the East Devon Alliance, which is also unhappy about the process.
• To most people ‘devolution’ implies greater local involvement: local democratic power
• The process being followed for the ‘Heart of the South West’ devolution bid has no democratic element at all:
o No public consultation
Input has been sought from the business community but not the public or elected representatives
o No consultation with elected Councillors regarding the process or on the content of the bid
The information submitted so far has the logos of the Councils and implies endorsement that has not been explicitly sought or given
Nolan Principles not followed
o It has been suggested that government guidance is to keep devolution planning confidential
o The Heart of the South West LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) meetings, including those on the devolution bid, are not open to the public or press; agendas and minutes are not published
o The Electoral Reform Society are concerned about the lack of democracy and public engagement in the devolution process of England
• Timing is extremely tight, the final ‘bid’ is due to be submitted on Dec 18th with a deal expected to be agreed with central government in March 2016
• EDDC Joint Overview and Scrutiny committee and Cabinet on Dec 2nd are being asked to give delegated authority to the Leader to sign off on the bid – the draft of which has not been shown to Councillors
o EDDC full Council have not and will not get to debate the bid (or the benefits and risks of the proposal)
o Information suggests that this situation is being repeated in Devon County Council with limited information or opportunity for debate
• Past history of unelected bodies delivering services and economic benefits does not bode well: East Devon Business Forum
and Connecting Devon and Somerset (broadband)
• EDA calls for:
o The Heart of the South West devolution planning process to be more open and democratic from now on
o The public and elected representatives to be regularly consulted
o Decisions involving the use of public funds (e.g. business rate revenue) to be made in public by accountable, elected representatives