Devon and Somerset Devolution: a brief primer

By Georgina Allen, South Devon Watch, Facebook

“Devon and Somerset are in the middle of a Devolution process.

The word Devolution sounds as though it will increase and support local democracy, but in fact the opposite is true. What we are experiencing looks more and more like the privatisation of local authorities and local democracy – our devolution bid has been written and is being led by a group called the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, or the HoSWLEP for short.

This is a quango made up mainly of business men, a couple of women and a few councillors. The business people are primarily property developers, construction CEOs and arms manufacturers. There are 24 of them and they are self-appointed, un-transparent, unaccountable and hold their meetings in secret. They publish minutes, but these are so opaque as to make them pointless. These people have written a bid for the future of Devon and Somerset, which is full of grandiose aspirations for growth.

They want to create 123,000 jobs, build business parks and growth hubs and most worryingly 179,000 houses.

They have no public mandate for this other than the fact that all our local councils have signed up to this bid.

Many local councillors have publicly stated that they are very unhappy with the way the devolution bid is shaping up. In the South Hams, the leader of the council said that they had been coerced into signing up. When questioned further about this, he explained by saying that councils had had their budgets slashed to such a point that they could hardly function.

The government has taken money away from councils and given it to the LEP, unless local councils sign up to the Devolution Bid, they will not get this funding. A simple privatisation practice, but a very effective one. With councils forced to sign up, the LEP have the illusion of a public mandate. There has been incredibly little press about the LEP and they have not consulted with the public, this Bid is going on behind closed doors and is therefore, very concerning.

Where housing is concerned – how did the LEP come up with the figure of 179,000 houses?

This is not based on any known survey. There is no mention of social, affordable or sustainable housing in the bid, just an enormous amount of market housing the LEP want to build.

As the board is mainly made up of developers this raises the question of conflict of interest, which the LEP acknowledge, but which has not stopped them from making the Devolution Bid almost entirely about growth. There is little to no mention of farming, the environment, tourism, all the industries that are most important down here, instead the Bid is about building and growth hubs and IT. It sounds more like a Bid for a northern powerhouse than it does the rural west country.

Most of the growth projections described in the Bid are reliant on Hinkley C going ahead. As there are very real worries about the viability of this, so there should be questions raised about the LEP, who are lacking a plan B. Councillors, MPs, the National Audit Office and many others are becoming increasingly concerned about the process of devolution and the LEP themselves and as a local person, I am also worried at seeing local issues like planning being passed to a quango of business people, who have financial interests in pushing the type of development that is least needed down here.”