10-1, out to 14-1 and drifting to 16-1

winning post It’s not every day that you find your name on a betting slip but post the Chancellor’s announcement that East Anglia Devolution was a ‘goer’, Ladbrokes promptly opened a book on who would be Mayor and I was surprised that after Lord Andrew Lansley 4-1 and George Freeman MP 8-1, I was next as an early front runner at 10-1. I thought about placing a bet and thought nope not a chance, on the other hand worth a tenner just to get the betting slip and have it framed, as a memento of my time in Local Politics.

Now where to place the bet, only one place for me really and it’s in Newmarket in the ’cut’ between the high street and the Guineas shopping centre as that was my great great-grandfather’s betting shop, a Welshman by the name of Doc Griffiths not sure why the ‘Doc’; but he was reputedly the first off-course bookie in Newmarket. His shop is still there today, one side of my family are still the landlords and it happens to be a Ladbrokes!  But as is the way of the world, it’s been busy, I never quite got there to place a bet until last Friday, of course by then my odds had dropped from 10:1 to 14:1 to 16:1 as others stormed ahead.  So in I strolled, only to find they had closed the book! These bookies know a thing or two, so rather than who will be Mayor maybe they are telling us something.

The early signs are not encouraging, last week at a meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council the whole idea got a less than enthusiastic reception and it has made for strange alliances, last week at Norfolk County Council’s Performance and Operation committee a Labour Councillor spoke eloquently and scathingly about the funding lock of £30M over 30 years, which to be fair across three counties is not exactly a lot of money, albeit new money. And the likes of Sir Henry Bellingham has spoken out in the Commons against the Mayoral model as his believe that it will cost more money to run. For me Devolution is about Economic Growth, Public Sector reform including real health and social care integration, cost savings and far more local decision making.  If a Mayor drives these things forward, then I think it’s a good thing.

But hey there is always a flip side, locally the Mayoral model has few friends as most think that it’s far too large a geography for one person to be able to represent successfully. If it’s just another tier of Government, costs more to run than it saves and whoever it is, is more interested in simply promoting the area or more worryingly, any one area, rather than working at the nitty gritty of Public Sector reform constantly building consensus and working with all councils, police, DWP and the NHS to make collective decisions around the issues we face, then it’s a mistake.

No doubt when a final document is produced if it builds on public and business engagement and it survives council debates in every single chamber then perhaps Ladbrokes will reopen its book and maybe I can place that bet, no doubt my odds will have considerably lengthened by then!


National Local signpostLast week I had two principle things on my plate, seemingly in conflict but actually very similar in their principle regard.  Firstly I was in North Yorkshire to do a LGA Corporate Peer Challenge for North Yorkshire County Council, something I committed to before Christmas as a part of the role of LGA Leaders who help provide the LGA’s sector lead improvement work.  At the same time, I played my very active role in the final discussions on the first stage of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Peterborough and Suffolk Devolution know in short hand as either CNPS or increasingly ‘East Anglia’.  For both there was many conversations, and complex papers to read and consider, and packed days of numerous meetings and teleconferences.

The devolution deal is embargoed until the Chancellor’s Budget speech and if announced, even then it is but a broad set of headings, a first stage in a process if you will.  I and others have been extremely clear that this ‘deal’ is a first stage. Some people always say ‘done deal’ but as we have seen from Manchester this is a process and journey.  Of course Manchester have, in reality, with the Greater Manchester Authority been on this journey for many years but we can learn from that and use it to inform us as we collectively across our communities, businesses and councils now have a period of real debate to refine and put the ‘flesh on the bone’ of what this means to us, and I am determined we will do this over the coming months.  Then and only then it will be debated by every council to be democratically backed, to move forward. But hey if councils don’t back it then that democracy in action either way.

For me that would be a great shame, for me Devolution has always been built on a simple premise I have long held. Whitehall is far too remote to understand the real issues in our communities and regarding such local and complex issues such as infrastructure, Housing and Health needs, so Whitehall does not, in my opinion, make really informed meaningful decisions.  There is rightly a role for Whitehall and Parliament in policy making and national issues such as Defence but when it comes to know where to invest to unlock Growth or how to organise such important things as Health and Social Care in a geography to make sure only those people who need to go to A&E actual do. These decisions are far, far better made at the local level by people who live and breath their area.

So as I interviewed Councillors, partner organisations and residents in North Yorkshire it struck me the similarity between the two things, here was I, not from the area trying to understand its complexities.  Yes, I hope the external prospective presented to their senior team on Friday, the private conversations with their senior figures and the report the team of us will now be writing up will be useful to them as they ponder the future, I certainly hope so given the hard work that went into it.  But they know their place as a level and complexity we could not hope to understand, they and their community are far, far better able to make decision for their community, just as we are for ours and that is why I think and am working for Devolution as the important next step for this country’s and our county’s delivery of Public Services.

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