Cranbrook (and elsewhere) – do you want independent councillors at East Devon District Council?

For the first time next year in May 2019 , Cranbrook will be electing three district councillors to serve on East Devon District council. This happens only once every four years.

Elected councillors serve on committees such as planning, housing and scrutiny.

Councillors are paid for their time (from at least £4360 per year plus expenses):
http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2513061/members-allowances-2017-18.pdf

You may feel that you have a natural affinity for the ruling block on the council – Conservatives or the other party represented at EDDC, Lib Dems. Conservatives currently hold 36 of the 58 seats, Lib Dems hold 6 seats.

But what if you feel that party politics (following the orders of your national party at such a local level) is not for you?

The next biggest group after Conservatives is independent councillors. They currently hold 16 seats. There is also an Independent East Devon Alliance councillor (Martin Shaw – Seaton and Colyton) at Devon County Council but their elections do not take place until 2022.

Some Independent councillors at East Devon (10 of them) belong to the East Devon Alliance.

How come independent councillors can be in an alliance?

Well, on all matters EDA are always totally independent and free to vote however they wish – there is no Whip as there is for a political party (though, by an anomaly of the electoral system, EDA has no alternative but to register as a political party for elections because the electoral system has not moved with the times!).

EDA councillors do though share common values – a committment to accountability, scrutiny and transparency in all council business and fight hard for these values for which they find it useful to be a group supportive of each other, while maintaining their independence. They also help each other in practical ways – canvassing, leaflet distribution, advice, etc.

If you think you would like to be a councillor, check out:
https://www.gov.uk/government/get-involved/take-part/become-a-councillor

If, after reading it, you like the idea of being an Independent East Devon Alliance councillor, contact the group at:

http://www.eastdevonalliance.org.uk/admin/contact-us/

or visit their Facebook page.

(East Devon Watch is supportive of East Devon Alliance but independent in its own views)

What happens if most English local authorities fail due to inadequate funding?

Owl has a theory.

Their money (but with fewer responsibilities and much less scrutiny) will immediately be passed to Local Enterprise Partnerships!

Unelected, unaccountable, barely scrutinised they will be free to use our money however they wish. And responsible only to government.

A score of unelected business people of dubious quality, dubious expertise and with complex conflicts of interest get full power.

What could possibly go wrong?

A personal view of scrutiny

From Peter Cleasby, a member of the Green Party, who lives in Exeter.

The Centre for Public Scrutiny has been tasked by the government with contributing to the new statutory guidance on overview and scrutiny in local government [1]. Below are my own suggestions, drawing on experience with monitoring Exeter City Council, which I have sent to the CfPS and the government.

1. There should be a requirement that scrutiny committees are constituted so as to be able to challenge ruling group proposals effectively. Exeter City Council changed its rules a few years ago to require that the chairs of scrutiny committees would be drawn from the majority party only (previously the chairs could be taken by members of opposition parties). This reduces the independence of the committees and, for obvious party political reasons, reduces criticism of leadership group proposals.

2. There should be more opportunities for members of the public to ask questions and challenge councillors at meetings. Other Devon councils allow questions to be asked at meetings of their executives/cabinets, but Exeter limits this practice to its scrutiny committees. Although the questioner is allowed to speak at the end of any discussion following the question and answer, no opportunity is provided to ask a supplementary question. This reduces the effectiveness of the challenge and the quality of discussion, and a requirement for one supplementary question would be valuable.

3. Scrutiny committees should be required to engage independent specialists to help them understand and challenge leadership proposals which have a high technical content, for example: on air quality, waste collection and disposal, estimation of housing need. This would enable officer-led proposals, often informed by consultancy studies predicated on terms of reference and assumptions issued by those officers, to be debated on a level playing field of knowledge.

4. Officers should be required to inform scrutiny committees of any representations received from organisations and individuals, whether solicited or not, relevant to an item being discussed by a scrutiny committee.

5. It should be mandatory for all proposals which would incur unbudgeted expenditure in excess of (say) £50k should be discussed at a scrutiny committee; and the proposal should state explicitly where the funding for the proposal will come from, including the impact on existing specific budgets.

6. In the interests of measuring the extent to which members of the public are having to resort to FOI Act/EIR channels to obtain information, the number, nature and outcome of all such requests such be reported publicly to each scrutiny committee cycle.

Some of these requirements will have – modest – costs at a time when local authorities are under severe financial constraints. In the interests of restoring the health of our democratic arrangements, the government should be prepared to make available additional funding to support them.

NOTES:

[1] See https://www.cfps.org.uk/3323-2/

Another investigation of local authority scrutiny and accountability

Owl says: The time is coming for fewer reports and more action. As an example, council CEOs should be forced to attend such committees in public to answer for their more controversial and questionable behaviour.

“The National Audit Office is to conduct a study of local government governance and accountability that will “examine key elements of local arrangements in the light of current pressures”.

The watchdog will also examine how the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for maintaining the overall accountability system for local government, is exercising its responsibilities as the steward of the system.

The NAO said: “Council governance and accountability arrangements are key in securing value for money locally. However, these arrangements are being tested by the current financial circumstances in the sector. Increasingly difficult decisions need to be made to protect key services and ensure financial sustainability. This includes the design and delivery of large service transformation programmes and the pursuit of new sources of revenue income through commercial investments.

“Local governance and accountability arrangements provide assurance about decision making processes and support the mitigation of risk in this increasingly challenging and complex environment.”

The NAO report is expected to be published in early 2019.

A report from the Committee for Standards in Public Life on local government ethical standards is due to come out later this year.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=36710%3Anational-audit-office-to-investigate-local-government-governance-and-accountability&catid=59&Itemid=27

Local Enterprise Partnership – Partnership: Arise Wessex! Or maybe not …!

Below is a comment on an earlier post:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/09/16/greater-south-west-local-enterprise-partnership-partnership/

reprinted here as it raises some interesting questions, raised by David Daniel, who so eloquently spoke about the unrealistic expectations of our LEPs growth strategy to a largely uninformed and disinterested majority of Conservative councillors at DCC recently:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2017/11/30/watch-eda-councillor-shaw-and-budleigh-resident-david-daniel-make-most-sense-on-lep-strategy/

This now seems to be the THIRD such trial marriage of various south-west LEPs. None of them seem to be made in heaven ……….

“WESSEX here we come!

English devolution is a mess, whether it will evolve into anything sensible is uncertain.

A third of people living in England outside London live in one of England’s nine combined authorities, six being cities with directly elected mayors. These are corporate bodies formed of two or more local government areas to enable decision-making across boundaries on issues that extend beyond the interests of any one individual local authority, like strategic transport planning.

Our nearest is the West of England Combined Authority of: Bristol; North Somerset; Bath and North East Somerset; and South Gloucester. The Government has encouraged the creation of these structures in order to provide the economic scale needed for devolution. These are on the fast track.

County identities are medieval in origin but they continue to lurk in our consciences. We identify with them democratically and historically. The focus of the Coalition 2010 white paper that set devolution in progress was to create administrations based on economic functional areas rather than regions. This has set in train a conflict between perceived economic necessity and community identity and democracy. A few Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) followed county boundaries eg Cornwall and Scilly, and Dorset, but most did not. Some even overlapped.

Following on from the combined authorities, which are all centred on what one might describe as metropolitan areas, we are beginning to see the creation of new concepts by the combination of LEPs into “power” groupings such as the Council of the North, Midlands Engine, Oxbridge Corridor etc.

We now have the Great South West Partnership of: Heart of the South West (HotSW), Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, and Dorset LEPs. Or do we? The reason I add a question mark is because not very long ago (April to be exact) we had the Great South West Partnership comprising FOUR LEPs, including Swindon and Wiltshire “working together” to agree the next steps in implementing the recommendations of a report on Productivity. We were also told that GFirst (Gloucester) and West of England (Bristol) LEPs were also taking an active interest.

In his first interview on Somerset Live the new HotSW Chief Executive, David Ralph said “We’ve set a really big ambition about doubling the size of the economy in this area over the next 30 years.”

https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/everything-you-need-know-local-1872023

Previously the target had been to double the economy in 20 years. When I asked for clarification I was told it was a mis-speak, not a change of policy to something slightly more realistic.

So who knows where we are going?”

Greater South West Local Enterprise Partnership – partnership!

Another GREAT to add to GREATER EXETER – the GREAT South West Partnership!

For this one, Dorset now holds the purse strings (thanks to Oliver Letwin?) but developer Steve Hindley still holds on to the Chairmanship. Somerset County Council seems to have lost its financial control role – hardly surprising now it’s in a financial crisis.

And all still unelected, unaccountable and non-transparent.

Rather confusingly, in one part of the press release there is a reference to high productivity in this new LEP region but then it goes on to say: “When productivity in the South West matches current levels in the South East, the region will add more than £18 billion a year to the UK economy.” Do they really expect it to overtake the south-east? They could just as well have said “when productivity in the region the region overtakes China it will add £18 trillion to the UK economy”!

“Press release from Heart of the South West, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnerships:

A campaign to highlight the South West’s economic potential and make the case for Government investment on a par with other UK regions has been launched at Westminster.

An alliance of business leaders, local authorities and higher education chiefs formally launched its Great South West vision that aims to put the South West on the UK economic map, to Parliament.

The delegation of the Heart of the South West, Dorset and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) were in London to promote the South West’s economic development ambitions.

They are calling on the government to give their vision for growth the same high-profile backing as other initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.

Great South West Partnership Chair & Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Steve Hindley CBE DL said: “The Great South West already has an economy twice the size of Greater Manchester’s and the West Midlands’. We have the largest building project in Europe underway at Hinkley Point C, as well as unrivalled natural assets that attract more visitors than anywhere outside London.

“This partnership stands out from the other UK public-led economic partnerships, as ours heavily backed by the business and university sector, and by working together we have the benefit of scale that gives us the chance to really show what we can do, given the right backing from Government.

“We’re now on the verge transformational growth in productivity, and we’re looking forward to realising our full potential and increasing our contribution to the UK economy on the back of increasing the prosperity of our local communities and businesses.”

Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LEP, said: “The government’s recent review of LEPs acknowledged their vital role in developing ambitious strategies for growth and driving investment and job creation.

“The Great South West is about cross-LEP collaboration on a shared agenda, such as transport and infrastructure that can deliver real growth in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as well as the wider South West.”

Dorset LEP Chair, Jim Stewart, said: “The South West economy is nationally significant and is larger than any combined authority – double the size of both Greater Manchester and West Midlands.

“Yet we are not receiving the same financial investment from the government as these regions.

“Our Great South West alliance of regional business leaders, academic heads and local authorities is determined to win backing for our plans that will put the region on the economic map.”

In July a government review of LEPs said the partnerships played a crucial role in ‘supercharging’ economic growth and the delivery of its Industrial Strategy.

Representatives from the three LEPs met with South West’s MPs at a meeting in Westminster to launch Great South West.

The MPs received a presentation, which set out the economic significance of the region.

In addition to having double the size economy of Greater Manchester and West Midlands, Great South West also contributes more to UK Gross Value Added than both Thames Gateway and Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor.

It also has a bigger productivity than both the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine but lags behind the English average.

When productivity in the South West matches current levels in the South East, the region will add more than £18 billion a year to the UK economy.

In addition, the South West is home to the single largest infrastructure project in Europe – the new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Somerset, which will generate billions of pounds worth of new business opportunities.

Tourism is a huge industry, with the region attracting more visitors than anywhere outside London.

And the region is also home to the largest aerospace sector in the UK, with pioneering automotive, nuclear and marine renewables and microelectronics industries. It also has a growing creative and digital sector.

Dorset West MP Sir Oliver Letwin worked with the LEPs on arranging the meeting with members of Parliament. He said: “This meeting provided a great opportunity for south west MPs to be properly briefed about this exciting proposition, which could grow to deliver a significant step-change in productivity for the south west.

“It is highly encouraging to see the diversity and number of stakeholders, even at this early stage – with Local Enterprise Partnerships, local authorities, universities, the CBI, Chambers of Commerce and many others all involved in the Great South West project.

“I hope that this project can continue to move forward with ever increasing momentum, and to help further realise the extraordinary economic potential of the South West.”

The Great South West partnership faces a number of challenges, including transport and connectivity, large dispersed populations and some of the country’s most deprived areas. This results in low productivity.

To tackle these challenges Great South West is calling the government to support it to improve transport connectivity and strategic routes, drive productivity in trade and build supply chains and increase economic connectivity in the rural sector.

A letter has been sent to James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to seek formal government support and investment for Great South West.”

https://heartofswlep.co.uk/news/great-south-west-set-rival-northern-powerhouse-midlands-engine/

“Standards watchdog head Sir Kevin Barron resigns over cover-up fears” – there really one law for MPs and one for the rest of us …

Owl says: what did you expect from this government?

“The head of the Commons standards watchdog has resigned and accused parliament of “sacrificing transparency” by banning the identification of MPs who are under investigation.

Sir Kevin Barron announced yesterday that he would step down next month after eight years of chairing the standards and privileges committee. “I am proud of the changes made to the code of conduct over the years, including the recent introduction of a new system of investigation into bullying and sexual harassment,” he said. But he took a swipe at his fellow MPs, adding: “It is a shame that some of those changes had to come with the sacrifice of transparency.”

In July members voted in favour of plans to keep secret the details of all MPs under investigation. The change was part of reforms being pushed through in response to reports of sexual harassment and bullying at Westminster.

Sir Kevin fiercely opposed the motion, describing it at the time as a “step backwards in transparency”. Lay members of the committee said that the move was “a detrimental step in continuing to build the credibility of the reputation of the House”. Less than two hours after the vote passed, the parliamentary standards commissioner had removed the list of current inquiries from its website.

Since 2010 details of MPs under inquiry, as well as rulings, have automatically been published. The new rules mean that the commissioner will no longer automatically publish verdicts.

Sir Kevin said: “I feel that now is an ideal time for me to move on and focus on other projects.” He commended the work of the lay members of the committee.

Jeremy Corbyn was reported to the standards commissioner last month for allegedly failing to declare his contentious trip to Tunisia or reveal who paid for it. If the commissioner were to rule that he broke Commons rules on declaring an overseas trip, he would have to apologise to MPs. Under the new system, however, the public would not automatically know of the details of the investigation. A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn has said: “The cost of the trip did not meet the declaration threshold.”

Source: The Times (paywall)