DCC opens up its Local Enterprise Partnership Scrutiny Commmittee to public scrutiny and participation

This positive change has long been requested by East Devon Alliance DCC Councillor Martin Shaw (Colyton and Seaton).

See minutes below for a full account of discussion at the meeting – about what is working well and (more importantly and interestingly) what is not:

https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=3572&x=1

“Seaside residents dominate personal debt league in England and Wales”

Owl says: Has anyone seen policies to reverse this trend from our Local Enterprise Partnership? Or even from EDDC? Or DCC?

Hint: development in Exmouth is the “traditional” kind the article points out as leading to problems.

“Seaside towns and cities dominate the list of areas with the highest numbers of people getting into serious difficulties with debt, according to new figures.

Scarborough, the largest resort on the Yorkshire coast, ranked second out of 347 local authorities in England and Wales for personal insolvencies, while Torbay in Devon – which includes the town of Torquay – came third, said the accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young.

Plymouth, on the south coast of Devon, was ranked fourth, while Blackpool was in sixth place.

However, it was the city of Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands which had the highest rate of personal insolvencies, recording just over 51 per 10,000 adults in 2018. The national average was 25, said the firm.

The insolvency rate includes personal bankruptcies, debt relief orders and individual voluntary arrangements….

Other coastal locations or regions featured in the firm’s “top 20” included Weymouth and Portland in Dorset, which includes the resort of Weymouth, which was in 12th place (39.6 insolvencies per 10,000 adults); the Isle of Wight, in 13th place (39.3 per 10,000); Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, in 14th place (39.2 per 10,000); Cornwall, in 17th place (38.5 per 10,000); and Hastings in East Sussex, in 19th place (38 per 10,000).

The accountancy firm said many coastal towns outside south-east England had struggled to replace their traditional industries with faster growth sectors such as financial services and technology. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/oct/21/seaside-residents-dominate-personal-debt-league-in-england-and-wales?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Local Enterprise Partnership “scrutiny” laid bare (and a chance to see for the scrutiny not working for yourself)

Comment as post:

“Heart of the South West (HotSW) Joint Scrutiny Committee

meets on

Thursday October 17
at County Hall 2.15 pm

(public may attend but not speak) to consider, amongst other things, a review of its own scrutiny performance and how it could be improved. This Joint Scrutiny Committee is the nearest thing we have to democratic oversight of our Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), HoTSW. Judge how good it is for yourselves. The Joint Committee comprises 17 councillors drawn from just nine of the 17 odd Devon and Somerset local and unitary authorities. Political proportionality only applies to the four nominees from each of the two County Councils.

https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/documents/g3572/Public%20reports%20pack%2017th-Oct-2019%2014.15%20Heart%20of%20the%20South%20West%20HotSW%20Local%20Enterprise%20Partnersh.pdf?T=10

FIRST A RECAP & SOME SCENE SETTING.

In 2010 the government started approving bids from self-selecting, business led, Local Enterprise Partnerships. LEPs were encouraged to make ambitious plans to run their local economies and bid for central government growth development funds, effectively kick starting English Devolution. HotSW is the selected LEP covering Devon and Somerset. By 2014 HotSW had agreed, in secret and with no scrutiny, a growth strategy with government. Nothing was openly published until 2015. This growth strategy is built around doubling the local economy in 20 years (3.53% annual growth rate) by increasing productivity and population growth. The targets are wildly unrealistic and therefore undeliverable.

This government devolution experiment has come in for severe criticism from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) (e.g. 2016): “It is alarming that LEPs are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public….LEPs are led by the private sector, and stakeholders have raised concerns that they are dominated by vested interests that do not properly represent their business communities.”

As a result, the Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned a “Review of Local Enterprise Partnership Governance and Transparency”, Led by Mary Ney. This review made 17 recommendations (2017) to improve governance, accountability and scrutiny of LEPs. Although the Department accepted these recommendations, they adopted a “light touch” approach, leaving LEPs and Local Authorities to work out the details for themselves.

Not surprisingly the PAC concluded this year (June 2019):

“We welcome the improvements to LEP governance and transparency since we last examined these issues, but there is still a long way to go for all LEPs to reach the rigorous standards we expect. We remain concerned that LEP boards are not yet representative of their local areas and business communities and that local scrutiny and accountability arrangements are not strong enough considering the significant sums of public funding that LEPs manage.”

NOW TO THE HOTSW SCRUTINY REVIEW ITSELF.

First thing to note is that of the 17 members of this Joint Scrutiny Committee, only eleven attended the very first scrutiny meeting last November. This attendance dropped to ten in February and then to just five in June, with Devon County Councillor R Bloxham for Broadsclyst, being amongst the absentees. This is the bare minimum for a quorum. This scrutiny committee has all the appearance of being in crisis. Perhaps members feel out of their depth scrutinising regional economic issues? Perhaps members feel inhibited from diving deep where all past HoTSW decisions have been rubber stamped? Maybe they have been warned not to undermine the LEP for fear of losing central funds? Could HotSW be confusing them with detail (oldest administrative trick in the book)? There is a plea for shorter presentations up for discussion.

Scrutiny Committee Members have canvassed views from other County and Unitary Authorities to try to understand their Scrutiny arrangements for LEPs, and have concluded that the HotSW arrangements are “more developed than in many authorities”. “Current arrangements are having some impact but have further to go.” A report proposes some changes to strengthen the transparency and quality of scrutiny (e.g. to adopt the Devon County practice for public participation, web casting, public attendance and speaking) and minor tinkering with the Terms of Reference to allow them to be more pro-active.

For discussion is this list of how to judge their Scrutiny success over the next year, with only three meetings to do it in:

1. Positive and impactful relationship between Scrutiny and the LEP, evidenced by change or amendments to policy or decisions.
2. Being cited in advance of priorities, decisions and strategy arising for the LEP
3. Clarity on the Chair of the Board and LEP’s ambitions and how Scrutiny can add value particularly to investment strategy.
4. Representing the ambition and concerns of the South-West’s residents
5. Demonstrable contribution to productivity and growth by the LEP
6. Increasing democracy in regional government
7. Scrutiny to build a culture of learning and improvement, taking account of best practice nationally

THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF THINGS TO SCRUTINISE.

At the February 2019 meeting the annual HotSW performance review, commissioned from Ash Futures, was presented to this Scrutiny Committee. It gave an early view of progress already faltering.

https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/documents/g3570/Public%20reports%20pack%2014th-Feb-2019%2014.15%20Heart%20of%20the%20South%20West%20HotSW%20Local%20Enterprise%20Partnersh.pdf?T=10

“…….the review of economic data leads to the overall conclusion that the HoSW economy, at best, continues to track the ‘baseline’ growth scenario. That is, there is no firm evidence that it is achieving either ‘strong’ or ‘transformational’ growth as aspired to in the Strategic Economic Plan.” [Baseline – continuing to fall behind UK average].

“The plan outcome measures and objectives in the current economic environment do not currently look achievable, certainly in the short-term. …..It is our view that some of the outcome targets, particularly those associated with the ‘transformational’ target, now look very aspirational in their nature.”

“Currently, there is no ‘feedback loop’ back to the Strategic Investment Panel to develop its understanding of ‘what has worked well, and what not’ with investments made….. A better understanding of how investments have developed would lead to better long-term decision-making.”

Following that, the LEPs covering Cornwall, Devon and Somerset had an opportunity to submit evidence at the beginning of August to the Treasury Committee Inquiry into regional imbalances in the UK economy:

The preface to the evidence reads: “We have put forward two submissions; one on behalf of Cornwall Council and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and another on behalf of the Heart of the South West Joint Committee and the HotSW Local Enterprise Partnership representing Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay.”

“We are submitting this joint letter as being neighbouring areas we have similar policy asks which the committee might find helpful to have highlighted as well as the nuances that are described in our two responses. There is no clear definition of what constitutes a region and we believe these two documents provide detailed insight into the complexity of this subject.”

Cornwall then followed this introduction with a detailed response for their part of the region comprising 4,342 words and four graphs but the detailed HotSW response was left blank. My understanding is that Local Authorities decided/were instructed to feed inputs to HotSW, stand back and let HotSW take the lead. Unfortunately, any County inputs have got “lost in the post” and the only organisation that took the time, trouble and effort to answer questions raised in the Inquiry terms of reference from the perspective of Devon’s economy was the East Devon Alliance.

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/treasury-committee/regional-imbalances-in-the-uk/written/103800.html

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Philip Aldrick, economics editor The Times, summarised why the Treasury will become more interested in regional funding in an article he wrote in 2018:

“….One theory doing the rounds is that the Treasury wants to know if its business support schemes are working. A crunch is coming. England’s 39 local enterprise partnerships [now reduced to 38- one went rogue], designed to boost growth, are funded largely with EU grants. For 2014 to 2020, they secured €6.51 billion of European Structural and Investment funds. Of that, €2.5 billion was allocated to “enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium enterprises”, about a tenth of which went to less developed regions.”

“After Brexit, now formally delayed until 2021 after yesterday’s transition deal, the money will no longer make the round trip via Brussels. It will come directly from Westminster, bringing with it more political accountability. If the money is not driving productivity, which it patently isn’t, the Treasury may decide the financial medicine could be administered more effectively.”

And the PAC in the 2019 report (referred to above) picks up the same theme:

“Despite spending up to £12 billion of taxpayers’ money [between 2015/16 and 2020/21], the Department has no real understanding of the impact which the Local Growth Fund has had on local economic growth. The Department chose not to set quantifiable objectives for Growth Deals. Its assertion that every £1 of local growth funding could generate £4.81 in benefits is an unsubstantiated estimate. Despite receiving quarterly performance data from LEPs, the Department has not used this to build up an understanding of the impact that local growth funding has had nationally, nor has it measured what value for money LEPs have delivered so far.”

Spending vast sums of tax payers’ money without strong scrutiny and without demonstrable value for money isn’t going to continue. Treasury watchers will be familiar with their scepticism over future plans that lack realism. Ambition not only has to be deliverable but be seen to be delivered.”

EDDC: Greater Exeter Strategic Plan update – delayed to at earliest April 2023

Highlights:

The Heart of the South West devolution bid highlights a number of challenges facing the LEP area which planning has a key role in addressing. These are:

 Comparative productivity is 29th out of 39 LEP areas
 An aging workforce and major skills shortages reported
 Our performance remains low on key productivity measures: wages, innovation, inward investment exports and global trade
 Disproportionate growth in our older population is placing unsustainable burdens on our services
 Strategic infrastructure has good coverage, but is incomplete
 Insufficient capacity of the road network and motorway junctions
 Uncompetitive travel times to London and the south east
 Incidents and extreme weather threatens transport resilience
 Housing supply not keeping up with demand
 Threats to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Page 5: revised timetable pushes back a GESP agreement to not earlier than April 2022. HOWEVER, this is almost certainly a spelling error, as on page 11 this is contradicted:

Once adopted it will supersede specified strategic parts of the East Devon Local Plan, Exeter Core Strategy, Exeter Local Plan, Mid Devon Local Plan (once adopted), Teignbridge Local Plan Parts 1 and 2 and any other Development Plan Documents as necessary. The preparation timetable is as follows:
 Site Options and Draft Policies – June 2020
 Draft Plan – November 2020
 Publication (Proposed Submission) – February 2022
 Submission – July 2022
 Examination – September 2022
Adpotion : April 2023
(not April 2022)

Page 8: The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan will cover the local planning authority areas of East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and Teignbridge (i.e. those Councils’ administrative areas excluding Dartmoor National Park). It will be prepared jointly by those four local planning authorities with the support of Devon County Council under Section 28 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. It will:

• set an overall vision and strategy for the area in the context of national and other high level policy and in particular climate emergency declarations and the NPPF;
• contain policies and proposals for strategic and cross boundary issues where these are best dealt with at a larger-than-local scale;
• set the overall amount of growth for the period 2020 – 2040;
• promote the Liveable Exeter vision by allocating urban regeneration sites in the city;
• implement the overall vision and strategy by allocating strategic sites of 500 or more
homes which may include urban extensions and new settlements ;
• provide districts’ local plans with targets for non-strategic development

3 weeks before Brexit our Local Enterprise Partnership wakes up!

“A No Deal scenario, without a comprehensive and cross-Government mitigation plan in place, could create conditions that have not been seen in our rural communities since Foot and Mouth.

A letter from the Heart of the South West Joint Committee and the Heart of the South West LEP, sent to Michael Gove, the No Deal Brexit minister, says that without comprehensive mitigation in place, a No Deal Brexit could result in significant business closures and a fundamental impact on Devon and Somerset.

The Heart of the South West Joint Committee and the Heart of the South West LEP are a partnership of sixteen local authorities, two national parks, two CCGs and the LEP and represent 1.7m people and 80,000 businesses across Devon and Somerset.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/no-deal-brexit-as-bad-3393648

“Hinkley Point builder (EDF) accused by France of ‘unacceptable’ failings”

“President Macron’s economy minister has accused the French state-owned company building Britain’s new nuclear plant of “unacceptable” failings as he threatened sweeping change at the group.

Bruno Le Maire said yesterday that the French nuclear sector was like “a state within a state” and he denounced cost overruns and delays in the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor in Somerset and similar projects in Flamanville in Normandy and Olkiluoto in Finland. “We will not accept this drift month after month, year after year,” Mr Le Maire said.

His words appeared to weaken the position of Jean-Bernard Lévy, 64, who was given a second four-year term as chief executive of EDF by Mr Macron in February.

Mr Le Maire said that he had ordered an independent audit into the French nuclear industry, which provides about 75 per cent of nation’s electricity, and into the decision to build a new generation of the increasingly questioned European pressurised reactors in Britain, France, Finland and China. The conclusions will be delivered on October 31, he said.

The audit will interest Whitehall, given that the EPRs being built in Somerset are supposed to supply 7 per cent of Britain’s electricity. EDF said last week that Hinkley Point C would cost £3 billion more than expected and may not meet its latest launch date of 2025, which is already eight years late.

The glitches at Hinkley Point C come after setbacks at Flamanville, which initially was due to come on stream in 2012 at a cost of €3.3 billion, but which will not now be linked to the grid until 2022 at the earliest at a cost of at least $10.9 billion. The Finnish plant was scheduled to be operational in 2009, but is still not complete.

Noting the lastest delays at Flamanville, Mr Le Maire said: “Now we learn that the costs of the nuclear reactor in Britain have drifted. All this drifting is unacceptable.”

The French state owns 83.7 per cent of EDF. Mr Macron wants to split the group in two, placing its nuclear activities in a wholly state-owned unit and floating the rest.”

Source: Times (pay wall)

“EDF warns Hinkley nuclear plant could cost extra £2.9 billion, see more delays”

Note to our Local Enterprise Partnership:
1. Don’t whatever you do go for a day at the races and bet any money – your track record advises against it.
2. You have (and always have had) developers on your Board. Surely one of you could have tipped off EDF about “challenging ground conditions”!

“The British project cost hike also comes just days after the country saw an auction for offshore wind projects clear at a record low, raising questions of the cost competitiveness of new nuclear.

EDF said Hinkley Point C was estimated to cost 21.5-22.5 billion pounds ($26.8-$28 billion), up 1.9-2.9 billion pounds from its latest estimate. …

Crooks said the cost increase was related to challenging ground conditions at the site. …”

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-nuclear-hinkley-edf/edf-warns-hinkley-nuclear-plant-could-cost-extra-2-9-billion-see-more-delays-idUKKBN1WA0K1?