Devolution: the next 5 years – councillors should be ashamed of themselves for signing us up with no consultation

House of Commons
Communities and Local Government Committee
Devolution: the next five years and beyond. First Report of Session 2015–16 25 Jan 2016


Devolution Objectives (Conclusion para 21)

As set out above, our witnesses gave us many important and ambitious reasons for pursuing devolution, particularly so for health devolution. However, with the exception of increasing economic growth, we are not certain whether these are intended to be the measurable objectives of devolution and are not convinced that the Government itself is any clearer. We are also not satisfied that the Government has considered and identified how to measure the success of a devolution deal once in place.”

The Approach to Devolution (from para 24 and 25)

….the current approach to devolution in England is overtly one of deal-making, which can be characterised as negotiations behind closed doors between central government and representatives of local authorities….
……Indeed, one of the consequences of deal-making is that devolution does not happen in a uniform manner; deals have so far been agreed with seven city regions and with Cornwall. Professor Pike described it as “very ad hoc” and “piecemeal”…..”

On Public Engagement (from para 51 and 52)

“We have been struck by the lack of discussion and consultation with the public in areas which have proposed, negotiated and agreed devolution deals.

At the question and answer session we held with residents during our visit to Greater Manchester, the vast majority of contributions, often made in angry tones, arose from the perceived lack of efforts by the combined authority to engage the public about the deal relating to their local area.

While many valid points were made, we note that attendees, having elected to attend the session, were not necessarily representative of all Greater Manchester residents who are likely to be less aware of devolution.

We were told that there had been a “complete, utter and total lack of democratic engagement”, “insufficient information” and that most people did not understand what Devo Manc was all about.

When we raised this with our Greater Manchester witnesses, Cllr Kieran Quinn, the Leader of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, said he fully accepted there could have been more transparency. Cllr Sue Jeffrey, the Leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, told us that Tees Valley had not consulted the public before signing up to a deal and Cllr Alan Rhodes, Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, said they were talking about the deal in the media and would hold a public consultation once it was agreed.
…..Cllr Quinn reasoned that, as the deal was bringing new powers to local people, not taking them away, limited public engagement could be excused

Conclusion (para 56)

“We think it is too late to engage the public only once a deal has been agreed. While it is reasonable that the actual negotiations are not open to the public, steps should be taken to inject more openness into the process by publishing on the relevant authorities’ websites:

• Devolution proposals and the Government’s counter-offers, within a reasonable time of them being made;
• An outline of what is being negotiated; and
• Drafts of the deal, and the text of the final deal.

The Government should also publish the criteria it uses to assess and agree proposals so local areas can refer to these when drawing up their devolution bid. A similar level of transparency should continue to be maintained once the deal has been agreed.”

Scrutiny (Conclusion para 77)

As the DCLG says, the overview and scrutiny requirements in the Bill are an initial framework to be used as a basis for more robust provisions, which we believe have a role in fostering public confidence in the new arrangements, as well as balancing vested interests. These should be developed to suit the characteristics of the local areas as a result of deliberate efforts to hold active discussions at local level, with residents involved in designing new and more open methods of scrutiny.

Local areas need to give active consideration to how the mayor will work with the council leaders and how s/he will be held to account. Although the elected mayor is intended to be a ‘first among equals’, s/he may soon establish, or already have, a profile and position which makes this balance difficult to achieve.”