“The leader of Exeter City Council has complained that he was left out of talks in London to secure devolution for Devon and Somerset.
Devon county council leaders as well as those from Plymouth and Torbay council chiefs were invited to the Westminster meeting this week with Jake Berry, the Minister responsible for devolution and coastal communities.
Following the meeting, it was announced by Devon County Council Tory leader John Hart that an agreement had been reached to devolve powers to an economy estimated to be worth £34 billion, more than Birmingham.
Peter Edwards, leader of the Labour-controlled city council, warned that the deal had no “mandate” from Exeter and revealed he had not been invited nor even told about the planned announcement.
Tory MP Gary Streeter, who organised the meeting and drew up the guest list, said he had never heard of Mr Edwards but offered an assurance that he would be “pleased” with the deal being struck.
Mr Hart emerged from the gathering on Thursday to declare that a plan had been agreed by “the two county councils, the two unitaries, all the district councils, the Local Enterprise Partnership, the two national parks and NHS representatives”.
“We have 17 local authorities working closely together on this plan with our other partners,” he added in a statement.
But hot on the heels on the press release came a strong response from Cllr Edwards.
He said: “Mr Hart went to this meeting without my knowledge. I would be interested in knowing if any other district councils took part or knew about it.
“He met me the day before and didn’t feel the need to mention it, let alone say he intended to indicate we were all signed up. I don’t have that mandate from my council – and he certainly doesn’t.
“We agree there is a need to go to Government and to unlock funding. We have been eager to see this happen and to see what is on offer.
“But we don’t agree that you should be offering up a new combined authority for Devon and Somerset blindly without knowing what any deal is. Councils could be giving up all their powers – without knowing that the prize is.
“Exeter has a strong economic agenda – it would be madness to jeopardise that without knowing what any benefits could be – or even if there are any benefits.
“My council’s position is that we could welcome devolution – but only once you know what any benefits are.”
Mr Streeter, MP for South West Devon, told Devonlive.com that there had been no snub and said “none of the districts” had been invited.
“I invited the county and unitary councils,” he added. “It was just a meeting to find out where we are in the devolution process with ministers, post election, with councils to report back.
“It was a lively successful meeting – the others will find out next week when a full report is made.”
Asked if Cllr Edwards, a longstanding councillor and city leader since 2010, was right to feel aggrieved, Mr Streeter added: “I don’t know him but I am sure he is a wonderful person.
“We don’t have dealings with Exeter or North Devon – it is very parochial. I know know who this gentleman is but once he gets the full story he’s going to be very pleased.” …”