Last 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.