“Great South West” LEP for LEPs! The South-West Regional Development Agency rising from its ashes?

We’ve had the Heart of the South West LEP!
We’ve had the “Golden Triangle” LEP (Exeter, Plymouth, Torquay)
We”ve even had the “Golden Quadrangle” LEP (Owl’s suggestion for adding in Cornwall or Dorset)

NOW we have the “Golden Pentangle” (adding in Cornwall AND Dorset)
yet ANOTHER unelected, unaccountable and non-transparent quango:


first reported by Owl in August 2016 here:

An update …

It seems plans are well-advanced for the “super” Local Enterprise Partnership of Local Enterprise Partnerships! They now even have a (very poor) website!

Those who remember life BEFORE our own LEP will recall that it was preceded by the much-derided South-West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) – so despised by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition that one of its first actions was to dispose of it and replace it with business-led, business-dominated, business-driven LEPs.

In our case it didn’t exactly work that way as OUR LEP (Heart of the South West – ie Devon and Somerset) decided to employ at a vast salary ex-SWRDA senior manager Chris Garcia – who is so beloved of our LEP that they raised his salary 26% last year!

However, he will perhaps be miffed that the job of CEO of the CEOs of all these LEPs has not gone to him but to Rozz Algar, a former Human Resources Manager:

Want to know what this “super” LEP is planning for us? Go to their NEW (riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes – OWL has spotted SIX spelling mistakes on its home page alone!) website at:


And hear LEP-speak like you’ve never heard it before! Including that old chestnut about how many hospitals it COULD (but won’t) build!

[Yes there really IS a question mark at the end of that heading!!!]

The South West of England is a great place. It is poised for a step change in prospertiy and productivity. When the productivity in the South West of England matches that currently in the South East we will add over £18bn a year to the UK’s economy. That’s enough to build a new NHS hospital every week.

Our economy is already bigger than that of Manchester and more than two and a half times that of Birmingham – with the single largest infrastructure project in Europe already underway (generating billions of pounds of business opportunities) and the best natural capital in the country (attracting more visitors than anywhere else outside London).
[Just in case you don’t realise it, they are talking about Hinkley C nuclear power plant – that great white elephant in North Somerset]

The pubication of the SW Growth Charter in 2016 started our journey to promote our great region and we welcome the continuing support of stakeholders across the region to hlep in shaping our opportunities and building the momentum.

Our strategy for greater prosperity is to collaborate to promote

a self-sustaining and resillient South West ….
with innovation, enterprise and infrastructure ….
with productive people and rewarding careers …
utilising our natural and entreprenurial capital …
and sharing the benefits for all

We are focused towards having a clear and consistent strategy in time for the Autumn Statement.


Great South West looks to build on existing good practice and collaborative working such as the science and innovation audit

By working together as a region will ensure that the South West has a strong voice to highlight investment opportunities to national and international private and public investors; as well as projecting a positive and progressive image for all

It will help to support the economic growth and prosperity of the whole region by linking up programmes and ensuring that the asks and priorities are consistent and reflect the strengths of the region

The Great Southwest does not intend to impede individuals or groups from their own initiatives or joining with others. We will not be a bureaucracy; but look to support and add value where it can.

It aims to support a flourishing private sector and a highly skilled population able to make the most of the great opportunities that the South West has to offer

Note: The name Great South West is a working title at present and may alter as the intiative gains momentum in order to be appropriate and resonate with all parties. This is not a brand used by the West of England LEP for their local authority areas.”

Yep, all on the back of Brexit!

Forget Heart of the South West, hello Great South West!

Not much in the way of money passing through their hands these days, thanks to former heavy reliance on government handouts and EU money.

Now, forget the “Heart of th South West” LEP and the “Golden Triangle” LEP and look forward to … well leave you to make up your own minds by letting them explain themselves.

But they soldier on, making more invisible clothes for the emperor, bigging up projects that are grinding on, avoiding talk of those that are stuck or being downgraded.

Here’s highlights from their August newsletter where we find an interesting new development.

First of all, the LEPs are all struggling to achieve anything so they are trying to find safety in numbers:

“This message and strong business interest have been taken forward into the Great South West brand. The work is at an early stage and is yet to involve more partners in the region; it is meant to be a flexible concept which partners can use on a project by project basis when it adds real value. Importantly, it aims to give us added weight with Government and other key stakeholders when we need to communicate across a larger geography. The concept has been progressed by the South West Leaders’ Forum and will continue to be developed through partnership and consultation with local authorities, MPs, business and the education sector.”

And so, our LEP will now aim to be part of a conglomerate called – wait for it


to rival the (currently rather dead in the water) “Northern Powerhouse”.

Here’s how they explain it:

“In order to compete with other UK and international regions, ‘Great South West’ aims to bring together a wide range of stakeholders from across the whole of the South West including Local Authorities, LEPs, MPs, Business and Education. It’s being created as a vehicle to promote all that is great about the region and to act as a common banner to communicate a clear focus on the opportunities to deliver prosperity.

With over £100bn of business opportunities, the South West has much to contribute; a dynamic and progressive South West economy can generate the critical success factors needed for a successful national economy.

As a region, the South West is diverse with different priorities covering different geographies. By working together, we will develop strategies and actions to secure enhanced funding and investment creating a prosperous region for all of us.”

AND it even has a brand new web page!


But don’t worry, the current and former members of our LEP are not neglecting their nuclear interests:

“In response to the Government’s commitment to work on an ‘early sector deal’ with the nuclear industry in the Industrial Strategy, NSW (made up of HotSW, West of England, Dorset and GFirst LEPs together with the private and academic/skills sectors) and its equivalent partners in the North West, have set out an approach to the Nuclear Industry Council to making the UK a global lead for the nuclear industry. …

The approach is an early stage and we will refine this through continued dialogue with Government on an effective nuclear sector deal. NSW believes it’s a major step forward and a testament to its integrity and profile that the North West consortium supported this joint approach.”

Lots and lots of scope for wasting more and more money there!

And last, but very much not least our LEP finally seems to realise that Brexit is upon us! And it has ANOTHER new sub-group:

The Brexit Resilience and Opportunities Group continues to draw together intelligence to understand the threats of Brexit in our area and maximise any opportunities.

Good information is crucial and the Group is still looking for more businesses to give their views on how their business will be affected by leaving the EU. The more people that respond, the better the results will be in building a meaningful response across all sectors.”

Summary: Heart of the South West LEP quietly morphing into …. drum roll… another iteration of the

South West Regional Development Agency

originally cut off in its bureaucratic prime by – the Conservative Government in 2012:


And still as unaccountable and non-transparent as ever – just BIGGER!

“Watchdog concern over “inherently complex” structures of combined authorities”

“The introduction of combined authorities has meant that inherently complex structures have been added to England’s already complicated local government arrangements, the National Audit Office has said.

The evidence that investment, decision-making and oversight at this sub national level was linked to improved local economic outcomes was “mixed and inconclusive”, it added.

In a report, Progress in setting up combined authorities, the watchdog did acknowledge that the Department for Communities and Local Government had worked “speedily” to make sure combined authority areas were ready for the mayoral elections in May 2017.

It also accepted that there “is a logic to establishing strategic bodies designed to function across conurbations and sub-regional areas, and there is a clear purpose to establishing combined authorities especially in metropolitan areas, as economies and transport networks operate at a scale greater than individual local authority areas.”

The report also found:

There was a risk that local councillors would have limited capacity for the overview and scrutiny of combined authorities.

In May 2017, six mayors were elected to combined authorities in England, with candidates having campaigned on manifestos which frequently made policy commitments beyond the current remits of these organisations. “This raises the question of whether mayors can be credible local advocates if they only deal with the limited issues under the remit.”

Combined authorities were not uniform, and varied in the extent of the devolution deals they had struck with government.

If the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union resulted in reductions in regional funding, the economic regeneration role of combined authorities would become more pressing. “Combined authorities are generally in areas which receive the most EU funding,” the NAO noted.

The NAO highlighted how a number of authorities had been unable to bring local authorities together to establish combined authorities, while areas with a long history of working together had often found it most straightforward to establish combined authorities.

“The capacity of most combined authorities is currently limited and the lack of geographical coherence between most combined authorities and other providers of public services could make it more problematic to devolve more public services in the future,” the watchdog warned.

The NAO’s recommendations were:

The DCLG should:

(a) continue to support combined authorities as they put in place their individual local plans for assessing their impact, including demonstrating the value they add;

(b) review periodically all frameworks and guidance in place for combined authorities and other bodies with joint responsibilities, to ensure that accountability for the delivery of services is clear to stakeholders in local communities; and

(c) continue to work with combined authorities as they develop sufficient capacity to:

deliver the functions agreed in the devolution deals;
support economic growth and the government’s industrial strategy; and
provide sufficient scrutiny and oversight to their activities.
Combined authorities should:

(d) work with the DCLG to develop their plans for assessing their impact, including demonstrating the value they add; and

(e) develop and maintain relationships with key stakeholders in delivering economic growth and public services in their areas.

Areas planning to establish combined authorities should:

(f) make sure they have and can clearly articulate a common purpose;

(g) form an area with a clear economic rationale, mindful of existing administrative boundaries; and

(h) develop relationships across areas where there is no history of joint working.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “For combined authorities to deliver real progress and not just be another ‘curiosity of history’ like other regional structures before them, they will need to demonstrate that they can both drive economic growth and also contribute to public sector reform.”


English devolved areas “too small” – wheel to be reinvented!

After the abolition of the South West Regional Development Agency which was considered too big, we got a Devon and Somerset Local Enterprise Partnership which is now considered too small!!!!! The solution: a South West regional development area!

And if our current LEP area is considered too small, imagine the even smaller mooted “Golden Triangle LEP” (Plymouth, Exeter Torbay)!

So many heads, so much banging together needed.

“… A simple comparison with other similar developed nations suggests that the average size of subnational regional government stands at around 5 million people. The average size of a German länder, for example, is 5.2 million; for French conseil regions it is 5.3 million; and for US states it is 6.1 million. Greater Manchester stands at little over 2.5 million. And are we seriously suggesting that English regional governance should be sub-divided into 39 or 40 separate units?

While clearly there is no right answer to the question of the optimal scale of a functional economic area within a competitive global economy, let alone the right-size for more functional democracy, in the case of the English LEP areas, it is clear that in global terms they are very much at the smaller end of the scale. With Brexit on the horizon and the challenges that might bring in terms of global connectivity, the case for a larger-scale approach to economic strategy and democratic decision-making could not be more clear.

Any new form of subnational governance needs to be developed at scale. While England is too big, our current city-regions and combined authorities are too small. This may well be the reason that ideas such as the Northern Powerhouse or Midlands Engine have in recent times gathered so much momentum. We are still a long way from such ideas taking more political or democratic forms, but to claim they lack public support would be to misread the signs of the times. …”


“Big Society” a big failure says Parliamentary Committee: £1 billion plus wasted

Owl says: Vanity projects – imagine how much we could spend on necessities if they were all abandoned! Hinkley C, HS2, the Big Society, EDDC relocation, Exmouth “regeneration”, Devon and Somerset devolution …!

“A publicly funded £1bn “big society” project set up by former prime minister David Cameron to restore values of responsibility and discipline among young people has been criticised by MPs for lax spending controls and poor management.

The Commons public accounts committee (PAC) said the National Citizen Service (NCS) trust lacked appropriate governance arrangements, could not justify its high costs, and was unable to prove whether its courses had any long-term impact on youngsters.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “We urge the trust and central government to review fundamentally the way NCS is delivered and its benefits measured before more public money is committed in the programme’s next commissioning round.”

MPs said that the scheme – which has received £600m in government funding since 2011 and stands to get another £900m investment over the next two years – should be “fundamentally reviewed” by ministers.

Hillier said although there was some evidence the scheme had a short-term positive impact on participants this did not in itself justify the high level of public spending on the programme, nor demonstrate that it would deliver the proposed benefits.

The PAC report criticised the trust for refusing to disclose directors’ salaries, and accused it of a “lack of discipline” after failing to recover £10m paid to providers for unfilled places. It concluded that it was unclear whether the trust management had the necessary skills and experience to run the scheme. …”


Owl grovels …

Somerset is included in LEP plans for super-expansion! But the questions remain and the situation gets even more complex. Will Cornwall and Dorset be happy with SO MUCH money destined for Hinkley C!

Owl has named the new foursome “The Golden Quadrangle” until such time as it is given its own name!

Some questions about the Heart of the South West LEP

If the Heart of the South West LEP is “dead in the water” and “there is no money left”


Where is the £25,000-plus coming from to pay someone to encourage a new threesome of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, Devon and Dorset?

What’s happening about the divorce from Somerset and are we paying that county’s expenses still?

HOTSW LEP is the vehicle for taking business rates from Enterprise Zones such as the East Devon Growth Point – if it’s defunct what happens to that money?

Who pays Mr Garcia’s salary and those of the 3 or 4 other employees who presumably now have no jobs? Somerset or Devon?

What’s happening about the “Golden Triangle LEP”?

Where does “Greater Exeter” fit in and with whom?

East Devon – where do we fit in? Our Leader is a HOTSW board member and is responsible for HOTSW housing. Is he still responsible for housing in Somerset, Greater Exeter and/or the “Golden Triangle”?

What is DCC’s/EDDC’s role in this – where was it discussed, when and by whom?

Where are the minutes of the meeting where the current deal was dropped and a new deal thought up?

What does Somerset think about all this?

Do YOU recall being consulted on any of this?

How did our (unelected, unrepresentative) LEP come to power and why?

Bumped from comment to post:

“I think that the clue is in the failure to seek involvement of either the broader business community or the public.

The signal failure is made most obvious by the admission, “private sector participation on the Board needs to be broader than just development related companies and needs to ensure representation from the wider local business community as has been successfully achieved in Exeter and Heart of Devon Economic Partnership and the Exeter and the East Devon business forums.”

The “post truth” (do we mean lie?) is that Heart of Devon and East Devon Business Forum were even more unrepresentative, representing only the individuals who elected themselves to be representatives. To put no finer point on it, nobody asked me if I approved these individuals to do anything at all.

The principal economic interests (see official statistics bodies) for Devon are tourism and agriculture. Always, were, always will. So yes, there may be other routes to market and other markets.

But you are a damn fool to ignore your principal strengths and capitalize on them.

But even with the agricultural economic disaster of Brexit staring the agricultural lobby in the face there is no move to lobby parliament. What we are presented with is a mantra that we will make the location healthy and thus we don’t need the NHS or care in the community or local hospitals, but must concentrate on building houses that are only economic if the developer’s clever accountants say so, and return nothing to the community.

I assume that the builders have got those clever computer models that figure out what is the economic point at which you maximise profit for bothering to build a house as opposed to land-banking it. If they don’t then the shareholders MUST be looking for a new board of directors (Bovis?). For that is the nub of the problem.

Commercial businesses are constrained to make profits for the benefit of the remuneration of the directors (first, if you please) and then shareholders, but not the employees because they are below the salt. There is nothing in their Memorandum and Articles about social justice and social responsibility – trust me, it is not there; and damn all about social housing.

So that is the real problem. Bodies are being created that are private sector beneficial, but they are being paid for out of public sector funds. So the tax payer is enriching, without any recourse, bodies that they did not authorise, to distribute public money – the council tax – for the benefit of self-elected groups who appear to have no responsibility to report to the public, or to be open to prosecution if they fail to behave with the probity one expects of those who administer public moneys.

Can we do anything about it.

Damn all? Maybe go to parliament to get local authorities to be able to do their own developments instead of being compelled to offer their own developments for right to purchase.

Frankly speaking, I find it unacceptable that the mantra that market forces must prevail on all accounts over any sector. Why should my taxes be used to give profits to people just because their house was built for social housing instead of for profit? Why don’t I get my money back?

There is a nostrum that says health is simply an economic matter – it you do not have the money you cannot afford to be healthy. Indeed, in all social matters, it is imperative that, through the public sector, we test if the private sector actually offer value for money or not. And we can only do this by having the ability to mount public sector developments (whether building hospitals or housing developments) that allow us to test value for money.

Value for money is not about how much profit a company can make out of running a train service (or failing to?) but about how much does it cost the tax payer to commission that service and what return does the taxpayer get?

If we look at the banking sector and the 2007 disaster – paid for by the tax payer – and still being paid for by the tax payer when we own RBS. What is your government doing for you? So far the tax payer is deeply exposed to RBS. And none of that means the tax payer sees a return themselves. Nothing in the hustings develops agriculture or tourism. So we are entitled to conclude that the blandishments of the LEP are mere frippery and bring no improvement to the region’s economics or development of travel and tourism.

For if you insist on economic measures for the region, first you have to define them, if they do not resonate with the Office of National Statistics (trust me – those folks have more serious statistics) then you have a serious credibility problem.

And therein hangs the tail. Agriculture and tourism is what we do – but the (irrelevant?) use cases being presented are what we don’t do.

Now the guys pushing for new developments are being told if they do not hit the ‘hot buttons’ of development they do not get funding, so we can only be certain that farmers and B&B providers are going to lose out because they are ‘yesterday’s market’ even though they are where the true market of Devon is.

Jurassic eat your heart out?’

Single unitary councils would save most money say researchers

This post is from November 2016 but is reprinted here due to its topicality. Given LEP power-grabbing and “Greater Exeter” and “Golden Triangle” options, our district council’s plan to move to Honiton looks questionable to say the least.

Should any of the above options pan out, even the current bases at Sidmouth and Exmouth (plus changing Manstone depot to part-office) seems grandiose!

“Creating 27 unitary councils across the whole of England could save as much as £2.9bn, according to an independent analysis of local government reorganisation options undertaken for the County Councils Network.

The report by consultants EY examined six different single and two-tier governance scenarios for county and district authorities, using existing county boundaries. Based on the analysis of national data, EY found that creation of unitaries along county boundaries could save between £2.37bn and £2.86bn over five years, and average up to £106m per county. The single unitary option has the shortest payback period, generating savings within two years and two months, according to the review.

Among the other options examined was a move to create two unitary authorities per county, which would establish 54 councils.

Under this proposal, savings worth £1.17bn and £1.7bn would be made in a five-year timeframe, only around 59% of the saving of the proposal to create unitaries along current boundaries.

A third approach considered abolishing county and district authorities and creating three unitaries per county. However, the creation of 81 new councils countrywide could result in a net cost to the taxpayer of £33m over five years, although the range could also include a saving of £526m, dependent on how senior management and councillors are structured across the authorities. Whatever transpires, our council serms hell-bent on the most expensive option:

The review also considered reforming the current two-tier system through merging districts to reduce the average number in a county area from 7.4 to 3. Such a scenario could make savings of between £531m and £839m over five years.

A further scenario to create three unitary authorities and a combined authority, which would then deliver major services like adult social care, children’s social care and transport, was likely to cost between £36m and £366m over five years. Such an approach has been considered in areas such as Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, but EY highlighted the risks of this ‘untried and untested’ model of reorganisation. …”


Relocation and local government reorganisation – a chance to save money!

What is currently more important in local government? Saving money, saving money by merger or being profligate? These seem to be the stark choices facing our district, with its reliance on the Local Enterprise Partnership for strategy, direction and funding.

Closer examination of the agenda for the next Cabinet meeting reveals that there are two references to local government reorganisation: at the bottom of page 111 and on page 115:

“Identify opportunities for rationalising/improving existing public sector governance arrangements and make recommendations to the constituent authorities/partners”

This appears to be a clear reference, as it not only refers to reform, but also says that the recommendations will go to ‘constituent authorities’. In other words we are not talking just about the LEP. The new Joint Committee clearly has mergers in mind. Add “Greater Exeter” into the mix and we come out with even more likelihood of massive changes. THEN add a mooted “Golden Triangle LEP” and we have a truly chaotic situation.

Owl wonders if these are circumstances in which to pursue a new HQ for EDDC at Honiton. Any proposal involving EDDC and avoiding building at Honiton can immediately claim to have made a minimum saving of £10 million plus interest payments, plus many associated costs – savings now being the mantra nowadays.

The relocation from Knowle could, in the above circumstances prove to be most expensive suicide note in the history of our district. And those EDDC members who waved through the move to Honiton, without the slightest idea of the cost, could in these circumstances be likened to turkeys voting for Christmas.

We have seen with the reorganisation in Dorset, that the reform and merger of local government authorities is very much in the air, and Dorset has been suggesting that the creation of two unitaries will lead to annual savings of many millions of pounds.

So it’s not surprising that things have gone very quiet with EDDC relocation. Firstly, there is local government reorganisation all around us and within our nearby city and the county. Secondly, the Pegasus deal for Knowle has seemingly gone very much on the back burner.

We have recently seen the formal separation – ‘decoupling’ – of the Exmouth Town Hall work from the Honiton proposal which seems to have had more to do with mothballing Honiton than it had to do with allowing Exmouth to proceed more quickly.

Work to refurbish Knowle is almost certainly millions of pounds cheaper than relocating. Plus, a new building in Honiton would immediately depreciate enormously on day one of occupation – 50% plus has been suggested.

Of course, PegasusLife could always put in a planning application for the Honiton site!

Another problem for our Local Enterprise Partnership?

Perhaps partnering with Somerset, with its massive reliance on Hinkley C is not such a good idea.

“Forging a trade deal with the European Union must be Britain’s top priority in negotiations, because the bloc is the largest export market for 61 of 62 of the nation’s cities, a think-tank has said. …

…”The West of England is disproportionately reliant on exports to the EU, with the great majority of total exports from cities in the region destined for the bloc. Out of all cities in the UK, the top three cities in terms of their dependence on EU exports are Exeter (70%), Plymouth (68%) and Bristol (66%).

The least dependent city in the UK is Derby, which still sends almost half (48%) of its exports to the EU, followed by Hull (29%).”


To be an LEP or not to be an LEP – that is the question

Just before Christmas, we read that three local authorities ( including Plymouth and Exeter) were pulling out of the Heart of the Southwest Local Enterprise Partnership (comprising the whole of Devon and Somerset). They intended to form their own LEP – the so-called “Golden Triangle LEP”:

We assume that, partly, this was because those authorities were not convinced that a “Devset” super-mayor (a requirement for government funding – and quite possibly from Somerset) would not adequately represent their interests.

Since then we have heard absolutely nothing about the situation from either side.

Is the “Golden Triangle LEP” still on the cards?
Have the local authorities which want to break away formally withdrawn?
If not, do they intend to withdraw and when?
If so, what happens to current funds held by the LEP on their behalf?
Are we having a Devset super-mayor or not?
When (if ever) will electors be consulted – and about what?
Will Devon continue to subsidise heavy HOTSW LEP investment in Hinkley C that, despite promises, shows little knock-on benefit to our county?

And when will Somerset County Council (as the chosen lead authority for scrutiny – though chosen by whom we do not know) be subject to scrutiny (or scrutinising itself) about where our money has gone, is going, and will go?


Growth? Not in retail

Local Plans, Local Enterprise Partnership – constantly push growth, growth, growth. But REAL figures tell a different story – with possible big job losses in retail fairly soon across the country, but particularly in retail in our area, where is this ” growth” in jobs and housing construction coming from and going to? There will be no growth if new jobs in one sector are offset by losses in other areas.

“The UK high street suffered its quietest Christmas in almost two decades new figures have shown, just hours after clothing giant Next announced a sharp slump in festive sales.

Retail footfall was at its lowest December level since 1998 – the year consultancy Ipsos Retail Performance first started its Retail Traffic Index.
Depressing updates emerging from retailers suggest that the decline in store footfall wasn’t converted into a lift in online sales and consumers cut back on spending all round. …

The South West of England and Wales suffered the biggest footfall drop of all the regions, with a year-on-year decline of 14.4per cent.”


“Musical Council Boundaries”

“When the music stops, your local council leader will be here to tell you a story [1]

First, there was “devolution” for the Heart of the South West, which wasn’t devolution at all because it would have sucked powers upwards from localities to a vast “combined authority” covering all of Devon and Somerset, including Plymouth and Torbay [2].

Then came the idea for a Greater Exeter Growth and Development Board (the GEGDB), which would be a joint strategic authority made up of Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge Councils [3]. Joint authorities are in practice run by their officers, not councillors, because the officers negotiate a common acceptable position on a given issue and then serve it up the councillors as the only available option that the four councils will agree on.

Finally (or perhaps not), proposals for a “South Devon” unitary council leaked out last week. This would be an all-purpose council covering East Devon, Exeter, Teignbridge, Torbay and Plymouth and, possibly, South Hams (sorry, Mid Devon, you’re out), discharging all existing district council functions plus those of Devon County Council within the new unitary area. Such evidence as is there is suggests the prime movers appear to be Exeter and Plymouth, if only because they refused to back further moves to support the “devolution” proposals.

The Exeter Green Party has written to the leader of Exeter City Council asking the following questions:

What mandate does the City Council have from the residents it serves to:
(a) attempt to reorganise local government decision-making structures?

(b) propose arrangements which would suck key decisions upwards from the elected representatives

of the people of Exeter to a new superior authority – the GEGDB – which would not be directly elected?

(c) propose a strategic authority – the GEGDB – which on the evidence of the 8 November paper would focus solely on economic growth to the exclusion of social and environmental considerations?

When does the City Council plan to publicise its thinking and actively consult residents and businesses on whether they actually want new local government arrangements and, if so, on the form they should take and how any new body might be fully accountable to local people?

It seems clear that the option favoured by Exeter and Plymouth is the South Devon unitary authority. Central government is believed to be offering £1 billion if the unitary is established, complete with an elected mayor. We don’t know what the money would be targeted at – improving public services, infrastructure, or grants to businesses? But a bribe’s a bribe.

A directly elected authority – which is what the unitary would be – is certainly preferable in democratic terms to the other options. But it would be a huge area, currently represented by 237 councillors elected by 105 wards (and that’s without South Hams). So a workable sized council will require a massive cull of elected members (no wonder the leaderships have been playing their cards close to their chests), leading to a weakening of the links between people and their councillors. On present ward boundaries, based on the most recent election results, 123 of the councillors would be Tories – a small majority, which gives pause for thought as to why Labour-run Exeter is so keen on the idea? Of course the new council could be a pathfinder, to be elected by proportional representation, which would change the political balance considerably. Look it’s a pig up there.

Many, many more questions. And meanwhile energy is being diverted away from service improvements into a potentially massive reorganisation. It still feels like the “old politics”. For the time being, we have to await the answers to the Green Party’s highly pertinent questions.


[1] You have to have been an aficionado of BBC Radio Children’s Hour in the 1950s to understand the reference!

[2] See my post https://petercleasby.com/2016/09/30/devolution-is-not-control/

[3] The proposals adopted by Exeter City Council’s Executive are at http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/g4903/Public%20reports%20pack%2008th-Nov-2016%2017.30%20Executive.pdf?T=10, page 73.”


Heart of the South West LEP: where is OUR money going now?

It appears that the “Heart of the South West LEP is dead in the water now that three of its original members have refused to continue to back it and instead are considering their own grouping – the south-west “Golden Triangle” LEP.

Which brings us to that age-old concern: the money. Where did the HOTSW LEP money come from, where was it spent and now, more importantly, what is happening to it now that several big players – who originally underwrote it – have pulled out?

How do we find out [what little there is] – where is the paper trail and where does its “accountability” reside?

This correspondence with the National Audit Office gives some clues:

[Concerns have been raised] about lack of transparency around contracts and spending.

As part of the assurance framework each local enterprise partnership has a nominated local authority that acts as its accountable body, and Somerset County Council (the Council) is the accountable body for the Heart of the South West LEP.

You could therefore consider bringing the matters to the attention of the Council themselves.

Alternatively you may wish to consider bringing the matters to the attention of the Councils external auditor. For this Council, the appointed auditor is Grant Thornton UK LLP.

The engagement lead for the audit is Peter Barber, who can be contacted at peter.a.berber@uk.gt.com or on 0117 305 7897. You should be aware, however, that the NAO has no powers to direct the auditor take further action, as that is a matter of professional judgement to be exercised by the external auditor themselves.

If you are a local elector for the [Somerset?] Council, you also have rights in relation to inspecting and objecting to the Councils accounts, if you feel this appropriate. The NAO has produced Council accounts: A guide to your rights, which sets out these rights in more detail. The guide can be accessed from the link or from our website home page”.”

Council tax payers of Somerset – arise. You, and we, surely have many questions of the council (or better still its external auditors) as to where your (Somerset) and our (Devon and, in particular for us, East Devon) money is going now that the HOTSW LEP has had at least one of its legs cut off.

Have its fingers been cut off? Is the till snapped shut and locked?


Public Accounts Committee warns on devolution spending scrutiny

Here in Devon and Somerset, we have no idea what our LEP has spent our money on in the past (only vague headlines), no idea who is spending it on what now. We don’t even know how many staff the LEP has, how much they and board members are paid or even where they work from. They boast about securing “economic growth” yet we have no evidence that they are making any impact whatsoever.

Each member of the LEP board has a post that wants to attract “growth funding” to themselves – be it the Chairman of Midas builders or the MD of Supacat which has designs on getting more involved in the nuclear industry – each one has a vested interest in getting the biggest possible slice of the growth cake and ensuring that, even if they don’t get the biggest slice, that there is no cake left for anyone else.

Here is what the Public Accounts Committee has to say.

Additionally, someone somewhere ensured that our LEP was top-heavy with unelected business people and light on local politicians who could at least be voted out. Whose bright idea was that?

“The Public Accounts Committee has issued a renewed warning over scrutiny in devolution deals, saying the government has still not set out how combined authority mayors will be held accountable for public money.

“MPs called on the government to specify what it is trying to achieve through devolution and communicate this clearly to citizens and service users.

The Devolution in England report said that every pound spent by a combined authority mayor – which will be elected for the first time next May – must be traceable by parliament to maintain transparency and accountability.

For example, the review highlighted the ‘opaque’ nature of accountability for the activities of local enterprise partnerships – designed to bring together the public and private sector – which are currently negotiating a revised round of local growth deals funded to the tune of £12bn over five years.

The Department for Communities and Local Government must also do more to demonstrate the link between devolution and economic growth, according to the committee.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said the government’s devolution plans in England have significant implications for the lives of millions of people. …

… Hillier said the government still has serious questions to answer about the benefits of these proposals as “generalisations about the potential benefits” would not be enough.

“The public care about the future of vital local services; about jobs, housing, education,” she stated.

“They want to know not just who is spending their money and to what end, but also how well it is being spent.

“When things go wrong, they want to know who is responsible and how they will be held to account. And, when they elect their first mayors in May, they want to be confident the government has done all it can to protect their interests.”

According to the MPs, there is a “considerable scope for tension” between local government, which is required to deliver and maintain services within a devolved budget, and central government, which provides funding in areas such as skills and transport, and in Greater Manchester, health.

Central government must not “absolve itself of its responsibility to ensure that devolved areas receive adequate funding for sustainable services”, the report stated, and DCLG in particular must ensure devolution benefits work for all local areas and not just central zones or key cities covered by combined authorities, says the committee.

“The government’s annual report on devolution, published this month, does nothing to address these concerns nor to set out a detailed strategic vision for the programme,” Hillier added.

“Every pound of public money spent by an elected mayor, local enterprise partnership or other body must be a pound Parliament can trace. Spending must face robust scrutiny.”


Reader comment on “Golden Triangle” devolution bid

A reader comment on a Western Morning News article that Exeter, Plymouth and Torbay are talking (in secret) about setting up their own Local Enterprise Partnership”:

“Even though we seem to be dragging ourselves free of the EU, we still seem to be stuck with the EU’s ‘regional’ policies – as imposed by John Prescott with his Regional Assemblies and Regional Development Agencies.

The EU were insistent that our cities should be the economic drivers for regions, and that we should have figureheads – regional Metro Mayors.

The objective is always the same – rather than decentralising power to regions, whole parcels of cities, rural towns, and villages become subject to one imposed rule, with little real democratic accountability; the bigger the authority, the less accountability at local level.

Our council apparatchiks will jump at the chance to build their empires, puff up their importance, and vastly improve their bank balances while they are at it. Out of sight, out of mind – the manufacturers of brown envelopes will be rubbing their hands in anticipation.

As with Police and Crime Commissioners, there will not be any enthusiasm for these positions; hardly anybody will vote; they will be politically tribal and not representative; and they will be distant from ‘the people’. As a result, they will be hugely disliked and distrusted. No change there then.”


The ExTorPly* LEP talks continue

ExTorPly = Exeter, Torquay, Plymouth. It gets complicated if it takes in more councils!

Owl suggests it might be called “Rip the Heart out of the South West LEP”, though the acronym RTHOOTSW LEP is a little clunky, even if it includes the word “hoot” in it. Still not happy about the “Golden Triangle LEP” for obvious reasons! But good to see (part of) Devon standing on its own feet, avoiding being sucked into an LEP where Hinkley C in Somerset takes most of the very little money on offer.

Council leaders in Exeter and Plymouth say they are convinced that a bid for devolution for Devon and Somerset is doomed to fail.

Fifteen councils across the region have been working on a joint bid to take over powers and funding now controlled by Whitehall.

But the Heart of the South West has reached a sticking point over the Government’s insistence that significant devolution will require an elected mayor for the region.

As we reported last week, Plymouth and Exeter refused to go along with a vote for all 15 councils to work exclusively with the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership.

David Thomas, the leader of Torbay’s Conservatives, said later that they too would support a rival bid with Plymouth and Exeter.

The two councils said they had written to colleagues across the region “to assure them of their ongoing commitment to joint working to improve skills, productivity and infrastructure in the Heart of the South West”.

They said they were fully committed to working with the other 13 councils on a joint productivity plan – but would continue to explore other opportunities.

“We believe that there will be no significant devolution deal for tuhe Heart of the South West given the lack of a consensus on the issue of an elected mayor/leader with responsibility for receiving devolved powers and financial resources from Whitehall,” they said.

“The Government’s position on this has been very clearly outlined by the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid.

“We feel it would be remiss of us not to explore the sub-regional opportunities for further and faster delivery of economic growth with a deal that doesn’t rule out an elected mayor/leader as described above.”

A meeting of the Heart of the South West leaders’ and chief executives’ group on Friday heard that Plymouth and Exeter councils had met with Torbay to discuss the potential to work together on a sub-regional level to drive economic growth further and faster.

Today’s letter defends the “exploratory discussions”, which were not attended by Torbay’s Mayor, Gordon Oliver.


Politics South West: pigs ears, economy with the truth and foxes

Click here


for more on the Bermuda … whoops … Golden Triangle LEP described by one MP as a “pig’s ear” … (with Sajid David denying saying something that it is shown he said)

Angela Peddar of the [Lack of] Success Regime saying that it has no plans to cut anything … and then talks about cutting services …

Bringing back fox-hunting (so important in this crisis-ridden world …

and more promises on rail lines and avoiding flooding.

Best get a stiff drink first … it isn’t pretty.

The “Golden Triangle LEP”

Some suggestions already made for our newest LEP:

Dairy farming to cease forthwith and be replaced by commercial poppy growing – this will increase the value of agricultural land, slow housing development and be better for the environment.

Dartmouth to be twinned with the Mekong Delta, Exeter to be twinned with Bangkok, Plymouth with Chiang Rai.

All remaining NHS community hospitals to be turned into drug rehabilitation centres.