It seems she insisted in getting the Queen’s Speech (always written by her Prime Minister) delivered to her a week in advance so that he couldn’t spring any last-minute surprises!
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
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.
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.
“…….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.
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.”
Following on from the story below Owl has been flying over Broadclyst.
It has an interesting parish council.
It includes Green Party landowner Henry Gent, whose declaration of interest notes that he has land on option to Persimmon that could net him a nice little earner very soon:
Lib Dem District Councillor Sarah Chamberlain.
Lib Dem District Councillor Eleanor Rylance, who plans to stand again against Claire Wright in a general election.
Henry Massey, whose company provides web services to Broadclyst Parish Council:
(Check those web services out here on the parish’s less than informative and clunky website: https://www.broadclyst.org/
and now new councillors Karl and Liz Straw – where Karl is certainly shaking up the very expensive parish council with some incisive questions!
Interesting features of the parish accounts show:
Of its £422,170 budget £204,320 is being spent on 4.5 FTE employees (including the clerk) PLUS £18,000 on a PART-TIME handyman whose LORRY costs £7,500 PLUS someone being paid £5,000 to maintain public toilets PLUS someone being paid £9000 to run the sports pavilion.
The council also has a bill of £16,550 for office/telephone/internet services, £2500 for staff expenses and £12,500 for PUBLIC RELATIONS. Of this £2050 is telephone charges and £3050 rates.
They love their sport too. £21,000 goes on sports field and tennis court, £12850 on the bowling green (for which they receive £1800 in return from the club.
Of the rest, £18000 goes on “projects” which included £10,000 on “bus shelters”, £12,000 goes on youth work and a whopping £34,320 is set aside for the eighbourhood plan.
Income is £2000 from the parish magazine, £1413 from DCC towards parish maintenance and £500 from allotments and that £1800 from the bowling club.
If Owl were a councillor there, it would DEFINITELY be asking some very awkward questions! And many of them!
[Broadclyst] “Parish council with £2,500 in reserves for grass seed will not reduce council tax after bid to cap it fails”
“Broadclyst parish councillor Karl Straw saw his motion to reduce the authority’s precept from £233.83 to no more than £160 per Band D household, be rejected by six votes to two.
Parish council chairman Henry Massey said the authority could not vote to ‘arbitrarily’ slash its precept by one-third, as it would immediately see funding dry up for some services.
Cllr Massey said the population of Broadclyst has increased from 1,000 people to 8,000 people in the last ten years, and the parish council provides services other parish authorities do not.
The vote, taken at Victory Hall on October 7, means Broadclyst remains the fourth most expensive non-unitary parish in the country, and the second most expensive precepting parish in Devon.
Cranbrook is the most expensive precepting parish, due to the maintenance bill for its country park.
Cllr Straw said Broadclyst Parish Council’s precept has ballooned by more than 66 per cent in the last five years.
He said: “Broadclyst pays on average £233.83 against the Devon average of £42.20.
“Seaton pays £101.60, Axminster pays £88.64, Sidmouth pays £72.36, Honiton pays £71.08, Exmouth pays £60, and Ottery pays £49.03
“The average East Devon parish charge is £46.55 and in Devon the parishes charge on average is £42.20.
“My motion was to reduce the precept by at least £75 in 2020/21 and to introduce a policy of continued reductions until the parish as charging no more than the average across Devon.”
Broadclyst Parish Council currently has £2,500 reserved for grass seeds for its bowling green.
However, Cllr Massey said nothing has been spent on grass seeds this year, and the figure would only be spent in full in a worst-case scenario.
Cllr Massey said Broadclyst has grown significantly from a ‘relatively small size’ since 2009.
He said: “We have to balance the needs of the people and groups who use the village as well as at the same time ensuring that we are giving good value for money.
“We provide a huge number of services for a parish council and, due to cutbacks in district and county council, have taken on additional services that otherwise would not be provided.”
Cllr Massey said the council welcomes the input made from Cllr Straw and will be carefully examining its budget in the next two months.
Cllr Straw said he is planning to request the council set up a people’s forum, which will invite residents to discuss what precept they would like to see the authority operate with.”
“The government’s ambition to simplify the country’s planning system will be wrecked by ministers’ determination to persist with extending permitted development rights, the RIBA has warned.
Alongside a number of other housing initiatives announced earlier this week, including plans to change energy regulations and introduce a new housebuilding standard, the housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would be looking to reform the planning system, “making it faster and more efficient for everyone, from households to large developers”.
The government wants to allow homes to be built above existing properties and is seeking views on demolishing old commercial buildings for new housing, a move it claimed would revitalise high streets in the process.
An accelerated green paper on planning reforms will be published next month, outlining ministers’ thinking.
But the RIBA president Alan Jones pointed to a “huge contradiction” at the heart of the government’s ambitions and said moves to create “a planning system that works for society would be undermined by the proposal to extend permitted development rights”.
Jones said the RIBA said it would continue to urge the government to reconsider its plans, since these “would only lead to more homes that sidestep vital quality and environmental standards and inhibit any plans to incite a ‘green housing revolution’”.
The architects’ trade body has been a vociferous critic of those developers who used permitted development rights to turn redundant office and commercial space into residential properties, many of which do not meet minimum space standards.
It backed a Children’s Commissioner report, published in August, which the RIBA said provided “further evidence of the damaging effect that current regulations have on people, including families with children, who end up living in these poor-quality homes, often through no choice of their own”.
Other organisations have warned that prolific use of permitted development rights to convert offices and warehousing space into homes would create the “slums of the future”.
The Labour Party has committed to scrapping permitted development rights if it gets into government, while the Royal Town Planning Institute believed such rights “put housing affordability and design quality at risk” and undermined the planning system.
At the Conservative Party conference earliest this week housing minister Esther McVey said the government would tweak the permitted development rights’ regime but ruled out rolling it back.”
Many council officers are honourable, many are not. Owl had hoped to to write “most officers are honourable, a few are not” but that hasn’t been Owl’s experience, sadly.
Now, all eyes are on a planning application in Salcombe, for two houses in an exceptionally good location were deleted from plans shown to a “planning workshop” for councillors.
Why? That old chestnut “commercial confidentiallity”.
“A council has been forced to reveal plans for two luxury homes on a beauty spot which were withheld from councillors during a meeting.
Above: original plan and plan shown to councillors and plans shown to councillors
South Hams District Council in Devon cited “commercial confidentiality” in keeping the Salcombe plans under wraps, but a watchdog rejected that excuse.
Environment group South Hams Society urged “more transparency in planning matters” by the council.
The authority said it “did not want the meeting to be sidetracked”.
Drawings of the homes had formed part of draft plans for the hill-top development off Shadycombe Road in the seaside town.
But a council officer told architects in an email on 11 October last year that “at this point” the scale of the four-bed detached houses should be left out of the plans.
He said the scale “concerns me” and added: “It would be a mistake to present this detail.”
In an email response, the architect sent back revised plans with circles instead of drawings of the houses “without being too prescriptive on their size and design”.
The revised plans were then put before a planning workshop of councillors and local businesses on 17 October.
The council initially refused South Hams Society’s request to reveal the original plans.
However, it appealed and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ordered the authority to divulge the omitted details.
In a statement, the council said it had “sought legal advice” and “we were of the view that we were entitled to withhold them”.
“It was clear to us that the plans as they were, would not be recommended for approval by the council.
“We felt that the size of the properties on the plan were inappropriate.”
The workshop had been arranged to talk to key stakeholders about a masterplan for the whole area and we did not want the meeting to be side-tracked by a proposal which we were sure would never come forward in its current state.”
It added it now “fully respects” the demand to release the full plans.”
Above: plans presented to workshop
Didi Alayli, chair of the society, said she hoped the ICO ruling “will lead to real change” in how council planners deal with draft plans.
“The huge profits to be made by landowners and developers in our beautiful area make it all the more important that our planning system is fit for purpose and we are not there yet,” she said.
It is understood landowner Jason Smith, who has not yet responded to a BBC request for comment, has not taken the proposals forward.”