Somerset County Council (lead authority for LEP scrutiny) has its own problems!

“Somerset Liberal Democrats’ Press Release, 26 September 2016:

Tories sit by whilst County Council faces Bankruptcy.

“The County Council’s finances are in a dire situation.”

Today, 26th September, the Conservative Cabinet running Somerset County Council have been discussing the possibility of declaring the Authority bankrupt. In the Revenue Outturn report the County Finance Director has informed the Cabinet that he may have to invoke Section 114 – which will mean that they have to bring in immediate savings to rectify the dire financial situation. The Government would also be advised that the County Council may not be able to pay all its bills! …

…“They have made Somerset County Council into a commissioning council, which has outsourced over £1 billion of contracts, with no real political control over the costs or the outcomes. The Tories have tied us into contracts for services we longer need. Indeed, far too many contracts, which gives the Council no flexibility on finance at all.”

“The Conservative Cabinet have had no long term thinking nor have they acted strategically, but have introduced damaging cuts in a salami slicing way, that have badly damaged valuable and useful services, causing the death of the Council by a thousand cuts. …

… “The Section 151 Officer [see also post below] has raised the spectre of Section 114 and the need for the Cabinet to now make further drastic cuts. And they are doing nothing to increase income generation within the Council, nor are they developing our good services into winning services across the South West.”

And this is the council watching over our LEP!

LEP “minutes” of 17 January 2017: interesting highlights

[The elephant in the room – the CEO’s 26% payrise – does not appear to be mentioned but it might be item 8 – see below]


“To commence the open recruitment process in January 2017 for up to 7 new private sector board directors following the anticipated retirement of a number of directors in 2017 in accordance to the process agreed in July’s Board meeting.”

How open?


“Within this protocol [simply called “Amber Protocols, no other information], there is one project which have failed to satisfy their conditions of funding approval / funding agreement. They will be written to and given two weeks to remedy their position.”

Which organisation?


“The LEP will approach SCC 151 officer to review how surplus funds can be used productively.”

HOWEVER at least in March 2016 it appears that Somerset County Council had opted to break the rules about this Section 151 Officer:

“Full Council on two occasions (most recently November 2015) has considered the implications of the Local Authority (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 which amend the statutory protection provisions for the posts of Chief Executive, Section 151 Officer and Monitoring Officer. On both occasions the Council agreed to leave the existing constitutional provisions unchanged because of concerns over the requirements of the regulations. In deciding not to make any changes the Council recognised that this carried a risk as the Council’s arrangements would be non-compliant until such time as alternative provisions were agreed. Acting on the advice of the Somerset Monitoring Officers Group (SMOG) all 6 councils in Somerset have agreed to remain non-compliant with the regulations pending hoped for clarity from the Government in relation to the requirements. This has not been forthcoming so SMOG has designed and is recommending a local solution that meets the known requirements of the regulations and avoids those elements of the regulations that are causing concern.”


“8. Board Paper for Special Board Meeting of Directors:

“The LEP Board agree to the recommendations in the paper.”


Click to access LEP-Board-Agenda-17-Jan-2017-V-5-1.pdf

That 26% payrise for LEP CEO

“The LEP did not say who had voted for the increase, but the WMN understands that all but one council representative had opposed the rise.”


We know that councillors from Devon County Council and Somerset County Council were against the payrise.

Assuming that the DCC and SCC representatives voted against, that leaves Paul Diviani (EDDC), Gordon Oliver (Torquay) and Ian Bowyer (Plymouth).

Which one voted for it. We will never know, because we are not allowed to know. It wasn’t even designated on the agenda:

Click to access LEP-Board-Agenda-17-Jan-2017-V-5-1.pdf

or in the minutes:

Click to access LEP-Board-Agenda-17-Jan-2017-V-5-1.pdf

You want to see Board papers (as you would for council meetings) well, take a look here:

You want to know what they spend? This is the information they direct you to here:

Good luck!

How many staff members does the LEP CEO supervise?

Reposted comment on the new that the CEO of our Local Enterprise Partnership is in line for a 26% salary increase:

Two of the many things we don’t know about our LEP are: how many staff our £90,729 pa (current pay rate now under review) Chief Executive, Chris Garcia, manages? Or what the staff bill and administrative costs are? Nation Audit Office (NAO) believes median number of full time equivalent staff across the country is eight.

The initial intention was that LEPs should be self-funding from private enterprise. In the event these funds did not materialise for the first LEPs to emerge, but imagine the expectations this funding mechanism could have generated amongst the “donor” community.

In a 2016 report the NAO says: “The Department [Department for Communities and Local Government] provides LEPs with £500,000 in core funding for administrative purposes, subject to LEPs securing £250,000 in match funding from local partners. All LEPs received the same core funding, regardless of size or structure.”

So there is really quite a lot of cash in the kitty to spend on “administrative purposes” (maybe it is even ring fenced for such purposes and if the CE and staff don’t get it, it disappears back to the Treasury?).

One of the reasons the Coalition announced in their 2010 White Paper the eventual abolition of Regional Development Agencies and their replacement by LEPs was because the current system was not seen to be delivering. So it is slightly surprising to see that Chris Garcia is a one-time “Director of Enterprise and Skills at the South West Regional Development Agency”.

Who suggested a 26% payrise for our LEP’s CEO and who pays for it?

We know it wasn’t Devon County Council- they are quoted as saying they will object. It doesn’t seem it is Somerset County Council as DCC mentions that it believes they will also object.

So, we have a very strange situation where the CEO’s of the two counties involved seem to have no power over the people who are supposed to work on behalf of the two counties.

If enough other board members (including our own Paul Diviani) agree, presumably the increase will go ahead.

Remember, this money will not come out of their own budgets but from us, the taxpayers – and we have NEVER been asked if we agree to this.

LEP CEO in line for a 26% payrise

“The leader of Devon County Council has criticised a proposed pay rise of more than 26% for the head of a government-backed regional business partnership.

Devon County Council will be voting against the pay rise for the chief executive of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, which is tasked with bringing prosperity to the region.

Businesses, local authorities and universities from across Devon and Somerset are represented on the LEP board.

The vote at the partnership’s board meeting next Tuesday, January 17, will be on a whether to increase the pay package of Chris Garcia, the chief executive, from £90,729 to £115,000.

A spokesman for Devon County Council said they anticipated that the Somerset County Council representative at the meeting would take the same stance.

Devon council leader John Hart said his vote was not personal but was on principle.

“As a local authority subject to significant government cuts, I cannot support a pay rise of 25% for any high-level official,” he said.

“It is clear the CEO does a good job and the LEP has brought many millions of pounds into the Devon economy [not verified as no figures available]. But there has to be recognition of the tight financial times in which we live.”

The Heart of the South West LEP is a business-led partnership of four county and unitary authorities, 15 district authorities, four universities and 10 FE colleges across Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay.”

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 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?


John Osman – Councils lead on Local Enterprise Partnership

“One of John’s proudest achievements was being elected Leader of Somerset County Council in May 2012 and has made it his number one priority to listen and consult with residents on the future of the County.”

That’s your number one priority down the pan then, John, but, of course, that won’t worry you.

Who chose Local enterprise partnership boundaries?

Owl has today alone read three articles about “Devon and Cornwall” but reads none at all (except when discussing devolution) “Devon and Somerset”.

Given the focus of our LEP on Hinkley C, would it not have been a better fit for one LEP to represent Devon and Cornwall and for Somerset to link northwards towards Bristol and Gloucestershire?

This now means that Cornwall goes it alone as a single parent and Devon is forced into an arranged marriage with Somerset!

There are a massive number of synergies between Devon and Cornwall but none between Devon and Somerset except the M5 and A303.

Who drew the lines and got us underwriting Hinkley C and its infrastructure with Somerset instead of concentrating on urban regeneration, tourism, rural infrastructure and environmental stewardship with Cornwall?

Who guards the LEP guards? Owl has the answer!

As part of the government’s 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.

Alternatively you may bring any matter concerning the LEP to the attention of the Somerset County Council’s external auditor.

For this Council, the appointed auditor is

Grant Thornton UK LLP.

The engagement lead for the audit is

Peter Barber
0117 305 7897.

For Local Authorities, some rules are in this government publication:

Accounting Officer Accountability System Statement for Local Government and for Fire and Rescue Authorities”

Click to access 150320_-_LG_and_Fire_Accountability_System_Statement_-_2015__final_.pdf

For the Local Growth Fund, this government publication covers some of the rules:

Accounting Officer: Accountability System Statement for the Local Growth Fund”

Click to access bis-15-183-Accountability-systems-statement.pdf

Should you as an elector wish to examine the accounts of ANY local authority, the National Audit Office has produced a very helpful guide abour your rights:

Council accounts: A guide to your rights

Click to access Council-accounts-a-guide-to-your-rights.pdf