SWIPE – South West Independent Party for England! A pipe dream …?

A post from East Devon Watch August 2015 is recently seeing revived interest from readers. Here it is again – the points it makes no less relevant now:

“Following on from our post about how much the South-West loses out to other areas of Britain, particularly the South-East, we have been considering the suggestion that we should create in this region a party similar to (but definitely not the same as) the Scottish National Party – a party representing an area which finds itself time and again the poor relation to other areas.

One should recall that the South-West has had a long tradition of non-conformity. Indeed, search on the words “south west england” and “nonconformity” and a whole host of links will turn up. Devon County Council even has web pages for it:

http://www.devon.gov.uk/index/councildemocracy/record_office/north_record_office/leaflets/sources_for_history_of_nonconformity-2.htm

Admittedly, this refers specifically to religious non-conformity. But the South-West showed its independent thinking by being a hotbed of liberalism when liberalism was something more than Nick Clegg getting into bed with the Tories. From Yeovil to Cornwall, this area steadfastly refused to be buttonholed into conformity to the pendulum swings between Labour and Conservative.

So, given that the area is now so definitely politically blue, are we getting a better deal? The post from earlier this week shows very definitely that we are not:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2015/07/31/is-it-time-the-west-country-had-its-own-party/

So, Owl thinks it is time we started thinking about alternatives.

Firstly, what is the South-West? Officially (for political and statistical purposes) it consists of nine official regions of England: Gloucestershire, Bristol, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The Owl thinks that we can discount Gloucestershire (hunting, shooting, fishing, the residences of Prince Charles and the Princes Royal and MI5 keep them firmly blue!) and Wiltshire seems just a little too close to the Home Counties and includes Swindon – definitely out. Dorset we dismiss too – they are totally conformist (see Letwin, Oliver and Grand Designs)!

That leaves Bristol, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Bristol has gone extremely green over recent years and are likely to remain so (hopefully) and the Isles of Scilly have always done their own thing and have never considered themselves part of mainland life, but they can have the option of joining us within Cornwall (as at present). This leaves Devon, Cornwall (including the Isles of Scilly if they so wish) and Somerset. These three counties have so much in common. Long sea coasts, poor infrastructure and transport links, large retirement communities, large number of second homes, tourism forming an important part of economic life, a history of being overlooked when the honey pot is being shared out.

Imagine a specific party for Devon, Somerset and Cornwall! Imagine what a group of people from this area who held the balance of power in Parliament could achieve. Imagine just how powerful that could be.

And the acronym: South West Independence Party England – SWIPE!

Take a SWIPE at London-centric politics – devolution for the Cornwall, Devon and Somerset region!

Alas, just a pipe dream – for now …”

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2015/08/02/swipe-south-west-independence-party-england/

House of Commons Council (and LEP) scrutiny report – tough new measures recommended

Recall that East Devon Alliance submitted in March 2017 a wide-ranging report on the situation in East Devon, which was considered by this committee:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2017/03/23/east-devon-alliance-provides-evidence-on-poor-scrutiny-at-eddc-to-parliamentary-inquiry-eddc-provides-woeful-response-ignoring-major-problems/

and

that this report calls for pilot projects of strengthened scrutiny arrangements. Wouldn’t East Devon District Council AND our LEP make wonderful pilots!

”The Government must encourage a culture change at local authorities to ensure overview and scrutiny is truly independent of the executive and can properly contribute to improving services for taxpayers, the Communities and Local Government Committee concludes.

“Lack of constructive challenge

The Committee’s report on overview and scrutiny in local government, warns that scrutiny is often not held in high enough esteem, leading to a lack of constructive challenge to improve services for residents.

It recommends measures to strengthen the independence of overview and scrutiny committees and for increased scrutiny of combined authorities, Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) and arm’s length bodies.

Scrutiny marginalised at too many local authorities

Clive Betts, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:

“Scrutiny is marginalised at too many local authorities, which in extreme cases can contribute to severe service failures, letting down council taxpayers and those that rely on services.

Scrutiny of those in power is a vital part of any democratic system and has huge benefits for all. We are calling on the Government to strengthen guidance to make overview and scrutiny committees truly independent of those they are charged with holding to account and to make sure the process is properly funded and respected.

Only by rebalancing the system and ensuring scrutiny is held in high esteem will we see better decisions and the outcomes that residents who pay for council services deserve.”

Report recommendations

That overview and scrutiny committees should report to an authority’s Full Council meeting rather than to the executive, mirroring the relationship between Select Committees and Parliament.

That scrutiny committees and the executive must be distinct and that executive councillors should not participate in scrutiny other than as witnesses, even if external partners are being scrutinised.

That councillors working on scrutiny committees should have access to financial and performance data held by an authority, and that this access should not be restricted for reasons of commercial sensitivity.

That scrutiny committees should be supported by officers that are able to operate with independence and offer impartial advice to committees. There should be a greater parity of esteem between scrutiny and the executive, and committees should have the same access to the expertise and time of senior officers and the chief executive as their cabinet counterparts.

That members of the public and service users have a fundamental role in the scrutiny process and that their participation should be encouraged and facilitated by councils.

That overview and scrutiny committees should be given full access to all financial and performance information, and have the right to call witnesses, not just from their local authorities, but from other public bodies and private council contractors. They should be able to follow and investigate the spending of the public pound.

That the DCLG works with the Local Government Association and the Centre for Public Scrutiny to identify councils to take part in a pilot scheme where the impact of elected chairs on scrutiny’s effectiveness can be monitored and its merits considered.

Local Economic Partnerships

The Report also recommends that the scrutiny committees of combined local authorities have a role in monitoring the performance of Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) and that the Government commits more funding to the scrutiny of mayoral combined authorities.

The inquiry was set up to examine whether the overview and scrutiny model is meeting its objectives and how decision-makers can best be held to account.

Read the report summary:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/36903.htm

Read the report conclusions and recommendations:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/36913.htm

Read the report: Effectiveness of local authority overview and scrutiny committees:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/36902.htm

Full report:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/369.pdf

Want to comment on LEP’s business plan for us? Go to Torbay council website says Sidmouth Herald!

Sidmouth Herald (as part of Archant a BIG supporter of our LEP) prints a press release on the Sidmouth Herald website on “consultation” on the LEP’s new, improved, answer to all our prayers business plan, citing the enthusiastic words of Paul Diviani, the Deputy Chair of an un-named committee.

Unfortunately, according to the press release, the consultation document appears to be only on Torbay’s website! No link to an EDDC website or the LEP’s own website!

Sloppy.

Perhaps the first consultation comment might be: put your own house in order before you attempt to put a nuclear cell in those of other people!

Here is the press release, in full, in all its glory, where 20 or so business and council members, many with nuclear interests or nuclear-industry-supporting industries attempt to persuade the rest of us that most of their (ie our) money going to Hinkley C is a good thing:

County and district councils in the two counties, along with the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Dartmoor and Exmoor national park authorities, and NHS commissioning groups from Northern, Eastern and Western Devon, South Devon and Torbay, and Somerset, have worked together to come up with a draft productivity strategy for the area, referred to as the Heart of the South West.

This has now been put out for a consultation, which will run until November 30.

The partnership is said to be seeking the views of businesses, organisations, groups and individuals.

It says its ambition is to double the size of the area’s economy to £70 billion by 2036 and is seeking the right interventions and Government backing to achieve this.

The partnership says the area has ‘unprecedented opportunities’ in sectors including nuclear, marine, rural productivity, health and care, aerospace and advanced engineering, and data analytics.

Councillor Paul Diviani, deputy chair of the prospective joint committee of the leaders of the Heart of the South West, said: “The Heart of the South West economy is larger than that of Birmingham, so we need to be recognised for our true potential as a cohesive economic area.

“Our vision is for all parts of the Heart of the South West to become more prosperous, enabling people to have a better quality of life and higher living standards.

“To achieve that, we have to create a more vibrant and competitive economy where the benefits can be shared by everyone, and by working in partnership we can present a stronger proposition.

“We urge our stakeholders in business and the wider community to give us their views and help us create an effective strategy for delivery.”

The results from the consultation will be considered by the joint committee of the leaders of the Heart of the South West and the Heart of the South West LEP board, before a final productivity strategy is agreed early in 2018.

The consultation documents are available to view on Torbay Council’s website at

http://www.torbay.gov.uk/devolution.

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/south-west-business-plan-up-for-consultation-1-5242862

Devon and Somerset devolution deal goes wrong on Day One

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.” …”

http://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/council-leader-angry-exeter-snub-483839

“Lack of transparency threatens English devolution and LEPs, warn small firms

“Local bodies responsible for economic growth and business support across England need to become more accountable and transparent to gain full support from the country’s small firms, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). The call comes ahead of the 100-day anniversary this weekend of elections for six new Combined Authority mayors.

A previously unreleased FSB survey finds that the majority (70%) of small firms in England with an opinion on devolution support the principle of giving more powers to local leaders. Two thirds (64%) feel devolution deals are good for their individual businesses.

However, small firms are concerned about their ability to feed into devolution deal making. Only one in seven (15%) feel they have been consulted on the devolution process in their area. More than half (57%) feel they cannot contribute to ongoing decision-making and a similar proportion (53%) believe there are not means to hold locally elected leaders to account.

Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: “The success of devolution deals will hinge on effective collaboration between new and existing local leaders. Transparency is key. Combined Authorities must clearly demonstrate how they are promoting growth and establish channels through which they can be held accountable. No doubt they’ll be heeding the NAO’s warning about becoming ‘a curiosity of history’.

“With new devolution proposals in the pipeline, future deals must be established on the basis of need. What we can’t have is the political affiliations of negotiators playing any role in fresh agreements.

“It’s encouraging to see that our new mayors are already engaging with small businesses in some areas. A number have established business advisory groups, and we urge those that haven’t to follow suit, ensuring they bring together representatives from all sections of the business community.”

Small businesses also flag the need for greater accountability among Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). Less than half (45%) of those with an opinion on the issue believe they are able to communicate directly with their local LEP.

More encouragingly, the majority (53%) believe their LEP represents the interests of their local business community, though only one in three (32%) feel LEPs represent the views of their individual firms.

Mike Cherry added: “LEPs do some great work across England and it’s crucial that they’re equipped to maintain their vital business support services beyond Brexit and play a key role in delivering an ambitious Industrial Strategy. That being said, reform is urgently needed.

“All LEPs are obliged to have a small business champion in place and that obligation needs to be met right across the country. Equally, the Government should produce comprehensive business data, including unregistered businesses, at a LEP level so Partnerships can tailor local growth strategies effectively.”

“LEPs need to be beyond reproach in terms of their governance, overall transparency and representativeness. They should be channels for economic growth and targeted business support, not old boys’ clubs.”

https://www.fsb.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/lack-of-transparency-threatens-english-devolution-and-leps-warn-small-firms

”Devolution deadlock’ putting economic growth across England at risk’

A Local Government Association document draws attention to the failure of LEPs and the need to base devolution on English counties not artificially created areas that have little synergy and where control is ceded to unrepresentative interests and lack of scrutiny and accountability:

“Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said councils wanted to use greater powers to build more homes, secure the infrastructure essential for economic growth, improve roads, close skill gaps and increase access to fast broadband but feared opportunities were being missed because devolution has “stalled”.

He added: “To reignite the devolution process, the government needs to engage in a debate about appropriate governance arrangements with local areas.

“This is fundamental to ensure that the momentum around devolving powers to local areas is not lost and the billions of pounds worth of economic growth, hundreds of thousands of jobs and homes on offer through non-metropolitan devolution deals is not lost with it.”

The LGA wants the government to publish its annual devolution report, setting out progress on negotiating deals, when parliament returns this week.

Under the Cities & Local Government Devolution Act, the secretary of state is expected to provide annual reports to parliament setting out the progress on devolution across England – this year’s report has yet to be published.

Concern has been sparked as no new deals have been announced for 18 months although the election of six combined authority mayors earlier this year was hailed as a significant milestone for devolution in England. …”

https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/devolution-deadlock-putting-economic-growth-across-england-risk

The ‘ Growing Places’ report referred to above is here:

https://www.local.gov.uk/growing-places-building-local-public-services-future

W(h)ither LEPs and devolution?

“The Local Government Association has called on the government to urgently release its annual devolution report amid fears the process has stalled across the country.

The umbrella-group’s plea, released on Monday (see next post), marks two years since the government set a deadline for local areas to submit devolution proposals.

Around 34 proposals – from cities, towns and counties across England – have been submitted.

The LGA argues that billions of pounds worth of economic growth and hundreds of thousands of new jobs and homes risk being lost as a result of the so-called “devolution deadlock”.

Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said councils wanted to use greater powers to build more homes, secure the infrastructure essential for economic growth, improve roads, close skill gaps and increase access to fast broadband but feared opportunities were being missed because devolution has “stalled”.

He added: “To reignite the devolution process, the government needs to engage in a debate about appropriate governance arrangements with local areas.

“This is fundamental to ensure that the momentum around devolving powers to local areas is not lost and the billions of pounds worth of economic growth, hundreds of thousands of jobs and homes on offer through non-metropolitan devolution deals is not lost with it.”

The LGA wants the government to publish its annual devolution report, setting out progress on negotiating deals, when parliament returns this week.

Under the Cities & Local Government Devolution Act, the secretary of state is expected to provide annual reports to parliament setting out the progress on devolution across England – this year’s report has yet to be published.

Concern has been sparked as no new deals have been announced for 18 months although the election of six combined authority mayors earlier this year was hailed as a significant milestone for devolution in England.

Council leaders said this was not the only model of devolution possible and the government should explore further options for the widespread transfer of powers and responsibilities to the whole of England to boost the economy and improve people’s lives.

A Department for Communities & Local Government spokesman said: “This government is 100% committed to devolving powers to local areas where there is strong local support for plans to deliver better local services, greater value for money and clear accountability.”

Localis think-tank chief executive Liam Booth-Smith said: “The wait has simply been far too long for the two-thirds of England that lacks the capacity and robust governance structure to deliver the government’s national industrial strategy.

“Given the economic urgency of Brexit, all parts of England, from major cities to small towns, deserve new powers to revive moribund local economies and with it the opportunity to help themselves.”

Booth-Smith said a Localis report on the industrial strategy recommended the establishment of 47 strategic authorities – based on existing county and combined authority boundaries – to control devolved powers to help drive economic growth.”

http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2017/09/publish-progress-report-devolution-now-lga-tells-government