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.”

http://www.democraticaudit.com/2017/05/03/whos-going-to-hold-the-new-metro-mayors-to-account/

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. …”

http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/publication/From-City-Hall-to-Citizens-Hall.pdf

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.”

http://www.devonlive.com/politicians-protest-as-devon-enterprise-boss-takes-24-000-pay-rise/story-30305397-detail/story.html

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

http://heartofswlep.co.uk/news/eight-new-non-executive-directors-appointed-heart-south-west-lep-board/

Strike threat at Hinkley C – bonus said to be not enough for skilled workers

“Workers on EDF’s 18 billion pound Hinkley Point C nuclear project in southwest England could go on strike over bonus payments, two labour unions said on Thursday.

The GMB and Unite trade unions will hold a vote among 700 workers employed by the Bouygues-Laing O’Rourke (BYLOR) construction consortium appointed by EDF to build parts of Britain’s first new nuclear plant in decades.

The ballot is scheduled for May 2-5, the unions said.

“The bonus rate offered by BYLOR is insufficient to attract the quality of workers needed to ensure that the civil works phase of the 18 billion pound project is completed on time,” the unions said in a joint statement.

EDF Energy, the French utility’s British subsidiary, said that discussions with its contractor and trade union partners were ongoing.

“We are committed to a continuing dialogue on this issue,” said an EDF spokesman, also speaking on behalf of Bouygues and Laing O’Rourke.” …

Source: Reuters

Toshiba’s nuclear mistakes – a warning for the UK

“The roots of Toshiba’s admission this week that it has serious doubts over its “ability to continue as a going concern” can be found near two small US towns.

It is the four reactors being built for nuclear power stations outside Waynesboro, in Georgia, and Jenkinsville, South Carolina, by the company’s US subsidiary Westinghouse that have left the Japanese corporation facing an annual loss of £7.37bn.

Construction work on the units has run hugely over budget and over schedule, casting a shadow over two of the biggest new nuclear power station projects in the US for years.

Events came to a head last month when Westinghouse was forced to file for bankruptcy protection to limit Toshiba’s losses.

Experts said the delays and cost problems were due to America’s lack of recent experience in building atomic power plants.

“I don’t think it is necessarily because of an inherent issue of US skills but rather the lack of practice,” said Richard Nephew, a professor at the Centre on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University. “There simply have not been as many new reactor builds in the US and this has reduced the overall pool of skilled labor, no question.”

The absence of a mass production supply chain, due to the small number of the Westinghouse-designed reactors being built, played a part too, he added. Regulatory issues had also delayed construction. …

Richard Morningstar, chairman of the Global Energy Centre at the international affairs thinktank Atlantic Council, said: “What is happening to Westinghouse and Toshiba only emphasises the need to double down on research on new, safe, nuclear technologies, such as small modular reactors. If we do not do so in the US, leadership will be ceded to other countries.” …

One such aspiring atomic leader is the UK, where the government wants to build a new generation of nuclear power stations to help satisfy the country’s power needs for decades to come.

But there are obvious parallels between the two countries on the issues of recent experience and supply chains. The UK has not completed a new nuclear power station since Sizewell B on the Suffolk coast started generating power in 1995.

EDF, the French state-owned company which has started pouring concrete at Hinkley Point in Somerset, where it plans to have two reactors operational by 2025, maintains it has had plenty of recent practice.

The EPR reactor design for Hinkley is the same as that for the reactors it is building in Finland, and at Flamanville, in France, though both of those are running late and over budget.

The other new nuclear projects proposed around the UK, all by foreign companies, look less certain and all are still years from construction starting in earnest.

Toshiba said this week it would consider selling its shares in the consortium behind another plant planned at Moorside, in Cumbria, which would utilise three of the same AP1000 Westinghouse reactors being built for the two crisis-hit US plants.

The South Korean power company Kepco last month expressed an interest in buying into the project, and the business secretary , Greg Clark, went to South Korea last week for talks on collaboration on nuclear power. …

Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said: “The big moral of the story is what on earth we are doing as a country, leaving our fundamental energy requirements to foreign companies or foreign governments?”

While the government has argued that it has plans in place to keep the lights on if new nuclear projects do not materialise, others said the deepening crisis at Toshiba this week showed the need for ministers to consider a new energy policy.

“It’s time to come up with a new plan A,” said Paul Dorfman, of the Energy Institute, at University College London, who believes the Moorside project is dead. “It’s time for a viable strategy that talks about grid upgrades, solar, energy efficiency, and energy management.”

A report published on Thursday highlighted another alternative: a U-turn on the Conservative party’s manifesto commitment to block new onshore windfarms. Analysis for the trade body Scottish Renewables suggested wind turbines on land had become so cheap they could be built for little or no subsidy, compared to the lucrative contract awarded to EDF for Hinkley.

But the prospect of a rethink by the government on wind power looks about as likely as new nuclear power stations being built on time.”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/14/toshiba-us-nuclear-problems-uk-cautionary-tale

What SHOULD super-Mayors (and LEPs) be doing?

This is what a think tank believes Mayors (and by extension Local Enterprise Partnerships) SHOULD be tackling.

Can anyone see any of these issues being given attention in our Devon and Somerset super-mayoral area?

… Mayors are due to be elected in May in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Tees Valley, Liverpool City Region, Cambridgeshire/ Peterborough and West of England, the latter an area based around Bristol.

The IPPR said its evidence base showed mayors should deliver inclusive growth by using their transport policy to prioritise poor neighbourhoods, establishing development corporations and championing the living wage and higher employment standards.

They could improve infrastructure by integrating land use planning and working with central government on housing investment and seek to embed health in all public policy.

The IPPR also urged mayors to set up companies to pilot ‘invest-to-save’ models in employment support, and to collaborate with councils to tackle homelessness….”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=30775%3Athink-tank-urges-new-mayors-to-make-full-use-of-powers&catid=59&