No money trees in Devon – or are there?

“Workers in the South West are £1,500 a year worse off in real terms than they were before the financial crash, according to new figures published by the TUC.

The analysis shows that real wages in the region are 6.7 per cent lower, on average, than they were in 2008. …

One in three jobs created in the South West since 2011 have been in insecure work, according to the figures. The TUC estimates that 281,223 people now work in insecure jobs in the region. That represents one in 10 workers in the South West.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Workers in the South West are £1,500 a year worse off than before the crash.

“This region badly needs a pay rise. It’s nearly ten years since the financial crisis, and working people are still suffering. Politicians have to explain to voters how they’ll create decent jobs that people can actually live on.

“And there needs to be recognition of the damage pay restrictions in the public sector are having. Hard-working nurses shouldn’t have to use food banks to get by.”


“The head of a publicly funded body tasked with boosting prosperity in Devon and Somerset has been awarded a 26 per cent pay rise.

Chris Garcia will now earn £115,000 a year for his role as chief executive of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.

The controversial proposal was approved by the LEP board at a meeting in Tiverton on Tuesday, January 17.

Devon County Council had signalled that its representative on the board, Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, would vote against the proposed pay award in light of “the tight financial times in which we live”.

“Austerity has made local government financially unviable. Radical reorganisation may be the only answer”

Owl says: But alas not before EDDC has spent £10 million plus of our money on a new HQ which may be redundant before they move into it!

“Tory councillors popping celebratory corks after last week’s haul of seats should bear in mind the old adage: be careful what you wish for. Now they occupy council leadership positions from Maidstone to Morpeth, it is they alone who must now carry the can for sorting out local government’s two Rs, revenue and reorganisation. The latter is going to haunt county halls for the next political cycle.

The blue tide isn’t going to wash away any of local government’s fundamental problem of a lack of money. Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit, has said he hopes “emboldened county leadership” could campaign for sustainable funding for social care and children’s services; he’s an optimist.

Residents may be willing to pay more for looking after older people. But how? Council tax won’t provide enough, so it will be down to central grants. Whoever is communities secretary after June 9 (and Theresa May looks unlikely to keep Sajid Javid) must now devise a distribution and needs formula for England that will protect Tories in the north as well as those in the heartlands of the south.

Short of May tearing up the spending plans set out by Philip Hammond barely a couple of months ago, financial pressure isn’t going to ease. So, come June 9 we’re back to the Christchurch question. A month ago, councillors in the solidly Tory Dorset district decided to defer a referendum on an outline plan to reorganise local government in that county, getting rid of two tiers and replacing the county council, districts and existing Poole and Bournemouth unitary councils with two new, big unitaries. Without reorganisation, the story goes, austerity has made local government financially unviable.

Reorganisation details are different in the various, but the same kinds of argument have been playing in Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Kent, Bucks, Essex, Hampshire and the other shires. If you notice something similar about those names, gold star: they are all Tory. What’s in prospect is largely an intra-Tory party argument which, in Kent, for example, is already pitting Tory MPs against councillors, as well as setting up massive squabbles between councillors themselves.

We’ve been here before, several times. Those with long memories will recall the long hours and bitter debate within the John Major government in the 1990s over reorganisation. The fruits of that included the demise of Avon county council in 1996, which the West of England combined authority is a bodged attempt at recreating.

Reorganisation is back because consultants’ reports say it should in principle be cheaper to run services over bigger areas with a single tier council and county executives usually agree. But those reports perennially underestimate transitional costs and rarely factor in the hard-to-quantify but vital element of the identification of residents and staff with particular places and local history.

Besides, most reorganisations turn into messy compromises. Take Christchurch. A “rational” reorganisation based on economic geography would align it with Southampton and the Solent, with the New Forest a sort of park in between urban areas. But few Tories are willing to abandon entirely the historic boundaries of Dorset even if the county council goes, just as few Tories want to see the (non-Tory) urban areas of Oxford and Cambridge being allowed to swallow the districts around them.

And all that is just local government. Summing up the costly and largely ineffective debates of the 1990s, Michael Chisholm, chair of the Local Government Boundary Commission, complained of the folly of reorganising without simultaneously considering council powers and finance – which these days has to include the interrelationship of councils and the NHS as well as the fraught consequences of councils’ keeping the proceeds of business rates and the end of central grants.

There’s trouble ahead but at least reorganisation would weaken the political hegemony the Tories have now established across a wide swath of English local government.”

Undemocratic mayors, undemocratic scrutiny

“The mere election of a mayor … does not mean these new mayoralties are automatically democratic. Mayors work within combined authorities, with cabinets made up of council leaders – all of whom are indirectly elected through a broken First Past the Post voting system.

But there is no directly elected assembly to hold them to account, like that of the London mayoralty. Instead, the Mayor is scrutinised by Overview and Scrutiny Committees made of councillors and within the council chambers themselves. This means who sits on those committees really matters.

At the Electoral Reform Society, we want to see a better democracy. And the metro mayors are the biggest change to the governance of England in decades. They are an exciting opportunity to change the way our cities are governed to be more inclusive, more local and more visible.

But we are concerned that this structure passes up existing legacies of problems in local government to the new mayoralties, as we point out in our new report From City Hall to Citizens’ Hall: Democracy, Diversity and English Devolution.

Due to our electoral system, Britain has a multitude of local ‘one-party states’, with almost no opposition in the council chamber. Many of these abound in the areas electing metro-mayors, with some councils having just one member from outside the controlling party.

Previous work for the ERS has shown that these councils risk an extra £2.6bn on public procurement each year, due to a lack of scrutiny.

Concerns around scrutiny are particularly strong in some of the metro-mayor areas because the council leaders – who will make up the cabinets – lack any diversity whatsoever. Only two of the council leaders of the six areas electing combined authorities are women. Only one is from a BAME community. This carries with it risks within the policymaking process, narrowing the experience and knowledge-base around the cabinet table.

So far the combined authority scrutiny committees have also demonstrated a lack of diversity, both political and demographic. On the West Midlands Overview and Scrutiny Committee, for instance, ten of twelve political members are drawn from one party, and ten are men.”

Owl says: Should Devon and Somerset EVER become a combined authority, our councillors and the Mayor will bend their knees to the nuclear and property vested interests of the majority of businessmen (men) who run our Local Enterprise Partnership – forget scrutiny. It didn’t help when the self-same people gave their CEO a 24% payrise and there was NOTHING councils could do about it.

English devolution – undemocratic and unrepresentative

“… The ERS (Electoral Reform Society) has been vocal in pointing out the solely economic focus of devolution – and the corresponding lack of attention to the democracy of devolution. With the public largely shut out of the process, and models imposed rather than chosen, so far citizen involvement in the constitutional future of their own areas has been minimal. …

… The creation of combined authorities highlights a continuing shift in the role of the councillor. Where once councillors took decisions directly on committees they are increasingly scrutineers: holding to account formal executive structures in the form of mayoral or cabinet/leader structures, or scrutinising bodies such as Clinical Commissioning Groups, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Police and Crime Commissioners, and now combined authorities.

The traditional argument for First Past the Post: that it elects ‘strong’ governments, cannot hold up to the reality of modern councillor life in which councillors are as often scrutinisers as decision-makers, not only of their own executives but of bodies external to the traditional council governance structure.

Yet, there are still many councils overwhelmingly dominated by a single party. …”

Devon County Council witholds payment to LEP over CEO 24% salary increase

Owl says: treat the LEP’s comments about the size of its investment with tons of salt, ask for a REAL breakdown of the figure, particularly all expenses related to Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset.

Politicians from across the political spectrum have joined forces to condemn a publicly-funded local enterprise partnership for giving its chief executive a £24,000 pay rise.

Devon County Council has withheld £10,000 of the funding it gives to the Heart of the South West LEP after Chris Garcia, its boss, took a 26% pay rise. Eight Devon district councils have each held back £1,000 in protest.

The LEP was one of six set up in the South West in 2011 to replace the regional development agency (RDA), which was abolished by the incoming coalition government.

Its chief executive’s pay leapt from £90,729 to £115,000 in January, voted through by business representatives on the board in the face of fierce opposition from local authority members.

John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, told a meeting of the full council that Plymouth was the only council on the board which supported the increase. He said the LEP should be called in for scrutiny after Thursday’s local elections “to ask them to justify their existence”.

Alan Connett, Devon Lib Dem leader, asked councillors to pull out of the partnership “until common sense prevails with regard to top management pay increases”.

He told last week’s meeting: “To award a £24,000 pay rise was obscene in the circumstances, at a time when teachers, nurses, doctors and the public sector generally had been under restraint of low or no pay rises for years.”

Coun Hart said the council should take no further action because it had gone past the point where anything could be achieved. He said the RDA was a body that was strong and represented the whole region, and it had some clout behind it. “The six LEPs are six mini-RDAs,” he said.

Coun Hart said the Government put up £189 million to be shared among the six LEPs. “The initial allocation for Devon and Somerset was abysmal. It did improve, but at the same time it’s not much in relation to what was being asked for,” he said. “Now, unfortunately, a decision has been taken by the LEP which is beyond our control, but I think it’s right that we show that we are not happy with what’s going on.”

Coun Hart said some of the money allocated in the second tranche of funding still had not been spent, while the third tranche was on the way.

Exeter Labour county councillor Rob Hannaford said: “The time for this body to be abolished has clearly come.”

A LEP spokeswoman said: “We look forward to working with the confirmed leaders of the local authorities following the elections and working with them on how we can together increase productivity and prosperity for all in Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay.”

She said the LEP had brought in £722.70 million investment and that the LEP was spending tranche two.”

“Tory candidate defends spending up to £1m on West Midlands mayor campaign”

You just KNOW when a Tory candidate has £1 million behind his campaign that most of the people or companies contributing are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts!

Labour’s campaign spending is thought to be between £100,000 and £200,000. It has focused on social media campaigning and phone banks, where volunteers call up voters to ask for their support. The Lib Dem candidate has spent about £50,000.

LEP announces 8 new board members – four of which already held LEP positions

No surprises here:

Karl Tucker, Joint Managing Director Yeo Valley Farms (Production) Ltd
· Member HotSW LEP People Group
· Member Somerset E & Skills Steering Group
· Member Somerset Economic Growth Board
· Member SW CBI Council

Richard Stevens Managing Director, Plymouth Citybus Ltd
· Chairman Plymouth & Devon Chamber
· Chair Plymouth Growth Board
· Member PRTFu
· Numerous other local groups

Fiona McMillan Non-Executive Director, EDF Energy New Build Gen Co Ltd
· Member HotSW LEP People Group
· Chair Somerset E & Skills Steering Group
· Member Somerset Economic Growth Board
· Previously Principal Bridgwater College

Helen Lacey, Managing Director, Red Berry Recruitment
· Member HotSW LEP People Group
· Chair IoD Somerset
· Vice Chair Somerset Chamber
· Previously Vice Chair FSB Somerset
· Non-Executive Director Inspire To Achieve

Mel Squires, SW Regional Director, NFU
· Member SW CBI Council
· Member SWRFN
· Previously Member HotSW LEP Executive
· Chairman of the Seale-Hayne Education Trust

Jackie Jacobs, Board member and joint owner
EIC Group / SW Metal Finishing Ltd
· Board member WEAF

Stuart Brocklehurst, Chief Executive, Applegate Marketplace Ltd
· Governor Petroc College
· Patron of Pilton House Trust
· Previously Group Communications Director Amadeus IT Group Madrid, Senior Vice President Visa International, Bishop’s Council Diocese of Exeter

David Bird, Santander Corporate and Commercial Banking
Board member DCBC