What is our Local Enterprise Partnership up to these days? They won’t tell us

“The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) new local industry strategy featured prominently at its annual conference in Torquay on 4 November despite it not yet having been published.

It has been signed off by all the partners and seen by other stakeholders, but will remain otherwise unseen until it receives ministerial-level clearance in Whitehall. …”

And this picture of how our LEP compares to the 38 other LEPs is worth (at least) a thousand words:

https://exeterobserver.org/2019/11/12/heart-of-the-south-west-local-enterprise-partnership-local-industrial-strategy/

EDF can’t manage its French sites, let alone Hinkley C

So, so nany of Devon’s economic eggs in Hinkley C’s basket – dropped in there by our Local Enterprise Partnership, with the vested interests of its board members uppermost.

And no wonder Germany has dropped nuclear in favour of renewable energy.

“An official report rapped French energy giant EDF on the knuckles Monday for lacking a “culture of quality,” as reflected in huge delays and price overruns at a nuclear plant it has been building for more than a decade.

The report was presented to EDF’s largest shareholder, the French government, which called for an urgent “plan of action” to improve standards at the company and get the much-needed plant online.

The delays at the Flamanville site in northern France come on top of a massive cost overrun at the Hinkley Point nuclear project EDF is building in Britain and a decade-long delay to the Olkiluoto plant in Finland.

EDF’s European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) reactor in Flamanville is now seven years late and costs have more than tripled to 12.4 billion euros ($13.7 billion).

Earlier this month, the company said fixing faulty welding on the Flamanville reactor will add 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) to the already swollen price tag.

When Electricite de France began work on the reactor in 2007 it targeted a launch date of 2012. It is now eyeing 2022.

Presented by Jean-Martin Folz, ex-boss of car-maker PSA, Monday’s audit report highlighted a loss of competence at EDF and slammed the company for lacking a “culture of quality.”

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said the report underscored “an unacceptable lack of rigour” at EDF.

He ordered the company to put in place an action plan within a month to bring its nuclear project to the “highest levels”.

EDF chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy, at the same press conference, said he accepted the findings and vowed the company would “redouble its efforts” to boost skill levels.

Folz said that in spite of the problems, the EPR project has successfully demonstrated the “relevance” of the new technology.

– Frustration –

The EDF’s board a few months ago discussed abandoning the Flamanville project but the French state still supports the build despite frustration with the delays.

The project was meant to showcase the third-generation EPR reactor technology that EDF has sold to Britain and Finland.

In September, EDF announced that an EPR reactor it is building on Britain’s south coast would also be delayed, and cost between 1.9 and 2.9 billion pounds ($2.4-3.7 billion) more than initially estimated.

A similar EPR third generation nuclear power plant project in Olkiluoto in Finland is now 10 years behind the initial schedule.

The government acknowledges the delays risk severely denting France’s international reputation as a reliable provider of nuclear energy technology.

Folz said EDF would need to embark on a massive investment and recruitment drive, which was only possible if the government commits to “stable, long-term programmes for the construction of new reactors and the maintenance of the existing fleet.”

The state is considering building more reactors but Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne insisted Monday a decision cannot be taken before EDF has demonstrated the effective running of the EPR.

France relies on nuclear power for 72 percent of its electricity needs. The government wants to reduce this to 50 percent by 2035 by developing more renewable energy sources.

The government has said it would shut 14 of 58 reactors, spread across 19 power plants, by 2035.

But France, by far the country most reliant on nuclear energy, has no intention of phasing this source out altogether, like Germany.

The nuclear sector provides jobs for nearly a quarter of a million people.

Two reactors in Fassenheim in the east of the country are still online despite a 40-year lifespan that expired two years ago.

Last year, a parliamentary report highlighted failings in the safety and defences of the country’s nuclear plants, citing a series of shutdowns at sites around the country.”

https://www.france24.com/en/20191028-audit-raps-french-energy-giant-edf-over-nuclear-project

Local Enterprise Partnership: DCC scrutiny committee in crisis?

Comment as post:

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

On 13 October I made a comment on the Heart of the South West (HotSW) Joint Scrutiny Committee meeting scheduled for the 17 October. I pointed out that attendance at this essential exercise in democracy had steadily fallen through the year from eleven to just five councillors [correction, should read six] and added my opinion that this scrutiny committee has all the appearance of being in crisis.

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/10/13/local-enterprise-partnership-scrutiny-laid-bare-and-a-chance-to-see-for-the-scrutiny-not-working-for-yourself/

Sadly this view seems to have been confirmed from the October 17 meeting.

From the minutes and associated documents of this Joint Scrutiny meeting of 17 October attendance is recorded as follows, down again to a bare quorum of five:

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

Present:
Councillor Jerry Brook Devon County Council (Chair)
Councillor Richard Hosking Devon County Council
Councillor Julian Brazil Devon County Council
Councillor Gareth Derrick Plymouth City Council
Councillor Barrie Spencer South Hams District Council

Apologies:
Councillor Ray Bloxham Devon County Council
Councillor Mike Lewis Somerset County Council
Councillor Jonny Morris Plymouth City Council

Absent:
Councillor Rod Williams Somerset County Council (Vice-Chair)
Councillor Ann Brown Somerset County Council
Councillor Simon Coles Somerset County Council
Councillor Lee Howgate Torbay Council
Councillor Karen Kennedy Torbay Council
Councillor Norman Cavill Taunton Deane Borough Council
Councillor Richard Chesterton Mid Devon District Council
Councillor Ian Dyer Sedgemoor District Council

[Only 16 councillors are listed though the Terms of Reference of the Scrutiny Committee sets the number at 17 – see Appendix 1 of the October briefing pack]

Three of these attendees: Councillors, Hoskins, Brazil and Derrick were also among the six attending the previous meeting in June. These Councillors deserve credit for taking their scrutiny responsibility seriously where the majority clearly have not. Note that not a single Councillor from Somerset attended. This is democratic deficit writ large.

As reported by Owl, the meeting did agreed that future meetings be webcast to continue to increase transparency of the Committee; and that public participation be adopted at future Committee meetings in line with Devon County Council’s public participation scheme. This is something that should have been included at the beginning but nevertheless represents progress.

In my comment I conjectured a number of reasons why members might find attendance to be a waste of their time and, mischievously, raised the rhetorical question as to whether HoTSW might be using creative administrative devises to make scrutiny difficult or seem unimportant. So it is interesting to read, from the minutes that among the topics discussed were the following:

1. the challenge of actively scrutinising the LEP when funds had already been allocated and projects begun;
2. the need for Scrutiny to have sight of policies before they are agreed and implemented by the LEP, to add value and effectiveness to the governance process;
3. the requirement of the Committee to scrutinise strategic documents and the cost effectiveness of the LEP.

These are excellent questions which would certainly have benefitted from members of the public being able to follow the details through webcasting. We now need to know the HotSW’s response.”

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