Devolution

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.

Another step closer to Devolution in Norfolk and Suffolk

Norfolk & Suffolk Leaders in WhitehallToday the County Council Network gather in Guildford for our annual conference and no doubt there will be much debate on the latest Devolution meetings taking place with DCLG.  For Norfolk and Suffolk the week before last, a group of council leaders from across both counties, including myself took our case for devolution to Government.  This was our opportunity to pitch our ambitious proposals for Suffolk and Norfolk to the Government team, led by Lord Heseltine, alongside senior civil servants from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Over recent weeks and months, all sixteen councils across Norfolk and Suffolk have been working collaboratively to develop these exciting proposals, the main focus of which centre around ways in which we can boost investment in our infrastructure, productivity, housing, education and skills across our communities.

I want to see us continuing to build on both Norfolk and Suffolk’s already great economic strengths, growing our local economies and increasing skills levels, as well as increasing the number of well paid jobs.

The meeting was very productive and our ideas and suggestions were welcomed by Lord Heseltine, who took a keen interest in the proposals we presented.  We set out the areas over which our collective councils and LEP hope to take more control and I am confident that we demonstrated that the bid we are planning to submit will fully support the ambitions which Suffolk and Norfolk share to enable the future growth and delivery of effective and efficient public services for all our residents.

I am very proud that we are held in high regard for our strong track record in collaborative working.  It was certainly recognised that we have put in an incredible amount of effort and hard work already and I feel that this shows we are well placed to take things to the next level.

Of course, we still have a way to go and we have more work to do in refining our bid to align with Government’s asks.  But it still remains that the agreement of any deal we submit will need political and democratic sign-off by all of our 16 councils and the New Anglia LEP.

The coming Storm or Gold rush depending how you see it

englandA couple of Friday’s ago I attended the East of England Assembly of Council Leaders representing both Forest Heath District Council and St. Edmundsbury Borough Council as neither Leader was able to be there due to prior commitments, held at South Cambridgeshire’s District Councils offices in Camborne, I always go for a little drive around Camborne because as a new entirely village it is interesting to see its development from the site boards & sales Portacabin of a few years ago, into the thriving community it is today.

Attending for the first time was the new Chairman of the LGA Cllr. David Sparks who took over from the Conservative Sir Merrick Cockell, it was interesting how he spoke about Devolution being as heavily involved as he is in a City Region Bid for new powers. It was clear from all in the room that whoever wins the next election that we need to come up with an ask based on some form of East Anglian, the trouble is I think we’ll struggle to agree what this looks like before the great political ‘gold rush’ that many of us think is coming. I say gold rush because un-doubtable those regions with a defined view will secure the ability to have a greater sense of devolution of power than those areas that do not.

The day before the meeting Ed Balls was speaking in Norwich and spoke of a region based around Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and it was interesting to hear what people thought of that!, not least because he does not make off the cuff remarks and clearly Labour have a regional agenda and probably plan. As usual grand schemes whereas the Conservatives are quietly allowing Local Government to reorganise itself to best suit local circumstances, grand plans v pragmatic approaches, oh hum nothing changes!

Next up was Phillip Colligan the Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director of NESTA who went through some of the fascinating initiatives his organisation is leading on, Suffolk got a mention about the mutuals it created around Adult care services and I was quietly chuffed at those as I politically lead on them. I have followed with interest the work of NESTA since its inception and some of the pilot initiatives he talked about relating to volunteering in Hospitals and how to reduce unplanned admissions into hospitals for elderly people were things I shall be following up on to seem how we might replicate those across the wider system.

A fascinating morning to represent West Suffolk at.

A moment in time or just another day

Stayed up last night to watch the event unfold in Scotland, so many hashtags difficult to keep up with the various twitter feeds but they made for interesting commentary running alongside the more traditional BBC, ITV and Sky election marathons, thought the BBC won hands down! As always Andrew Marr and Nick Robinson were insightful.

The really starling thing to me was the turn out, particularly when you think a general election only usual managing to head towards 70% and the local elections….well let’s not go there. Who says politics can’t engage.

Of course the unanswered question was the third question which did not make it to the ballot paper, I suspect for perfectly reasonable clarity sake to draw a line under the fundamental question of staying in the union or forming an actual country. Had it been asked would most of those who voted NO had put a cross in that box, to stay in but for significantly increased devolution, I think so and that to me is the real challenge to Westminster. This of course can be countered in part with the ill-fated regional argument that gave Prescott such a bloody nose in the North-West not so long ago, so there is something about identity wrapped up in this as well. The Scottish may well see themselves as Scottish but I don’t thing I have ever heard anyone refer to themselves as being East Anglian.

Of course the various leader’s words have been carefully drafted one way or the other over the past week but it certainly lays a challenge to Westminster which I think was reflected in the emails/tweets/Facebook post/press conference words issued by David Cameron.

So perhaps the question is not so much will there be a re-framing of the relationship of the union and Westminster but in what form and how quickly, for Westminster to brush this level of voting aside would be a mistake.

%d bloggers like this: