Many will say, including me, that bringing decision making closer to the people is a good thing. You might think then that the proposed devolution for the East (Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk) might be a step in the right direction..
But, when you scrap just below the surface this proposal is flawed in a number of ways.
Whilst reading this hastily put together and poorly drafted proposal I started to question the motivation for the idea. I have not heard of any local campaigns for devolution. I don’t pick up any desire for an elected Mayor for the three counties locally.
Why would anyone want a completely new huge local authority on top of the existing ones when everyone else wants to slim down to unitary authorities to save money? What is going on?
Why is this proposal being rushed through? The document sets out the need for all 23 councils involved to have “a full debate and consultation with relevant stakeholders”by June 2016 and everything in place with an elected Mayor by 2017???
I believe that the people who live in each of the three counties are major stakeholders. How are they to be consulted in any meaningful way by June? Three months is less time than is usually taken to consult over a road widening scheme or a change to bin emptying.
I always ask the question “what problem are we trying to solve” when a new idea pops out. Those that support the idea of the East devolution will point to housing and transport. But neither of these issues is being held back by local councils or governance.
They are held back by lack of funding. Funding that this Conservative government has turned off. We do not need more political structures, we know what is needed to grow the economy – we just need more money.
The £30m a year in the deal is minuscule compare to the need. It would be swallowed up in a single short road scheme.
In the proposal it clearly stated that “their is no intention for the combined authority to take existing powers from local authorities or existing city deal structures or funding without agreement.”
Yet at the same time it talks about the Mayor being responsible for transport, housing, health and social care, learning and skills, apprenticeships, employment, business support and public service reform. All of these are the responsibility of other councils and authorities.
Much of what is being proposed already sits as the responsibility of the Local Enterprise Partnerships. Interestingly Cambridgeshire sits in one LEP whilst Norfolk and Suffolk sit in another!!!
Some obvious questions? What has the tech centre of Europe, Cambridge, got in common with the lovely but remote coastal areas of Norfolk and Suffolk? Whilst it would be great for Norfolk and Suffolk to have the Mayor divert money from Cambridgeshire to help prevent coastline erosion it will act as a drag on the Cambridgeshire economy.
In my experience, any powers or responsibilities handed down from government never come with the full amount of money required to carry them out and always include the difficult issues that this Conservative government doesn’t want to be blamed for.
Too many people in the Conservative government think that by grouping a number of locations together in a document means you have created a “cluster”.
On the ground that is nonsense. Cambridgeshire needs to continue to build as strong a relationship with the investment money in London as it can to continue to head the bio tech success.
So, what did I spot on page 15 that made it all clear why this is not about devolution but about recreating regions. This stopped me in my tracks.
It is unusual for the government to be so clear that it is shaping local authorities to meet the demands of the EU. And we have yet to be consulted on this! I suspect Cameron has had to put this in place as a result of his “EU renegotiations”
“Through devolution, the area is seeking greater influence and decision making in respect of the European Structural Investment Funds 2014-2020 (European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Funds (ESF) and the EU Growth Programme element of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD)). This will allow the area to integrate and align investments with other aspects of the devolution deal and local economic priorities, to improve performance and maximise economic impact. In order to deliver these objectives the Combined Authority is seeking Intermediate Body Status for ERDF, ESF and the EU Growth Programme part of EAFRD funding”
The proposed geography proposed is wrong. The financial carrot is horribly wrong. The extra layer of government is wrong. The timetable is wrong. The lack of consultation is wrong. The desire to fit in with the EU’s demands is wrong.
A bad deal for Cambridgeshire.