Thursday, 30 June 2016

Speech at Norfolk County Council re Devolution 27.06.16

Speech at Norfolk County Council as part of the debate on 'Devolution' - 27.06.16
"At the start of this debate the Conservative Leader of our Council said that we should vote in support of these proposals so that we have "a full, comprehensive and meaningful consultation". What we have before us does not fit that criteria. What we have before us is fatally flawed and flawed for two reasons. We are proposing a consultation and leading the public - we are being asked to say we "endorse" these proposals and asking for their approval. We're leading residents down a certain path. Second, we are not even having an open question. We are told by the Government that we have got to have a Mayor and the public will not even be asked for their view of this. So we will set the terms of the consultation in a very narrow way. That's a big shame. It's a big shame because transferring power and responsibility from large and somewhat distant structures that seem un accountable is a very positive concept. Giving power back to the people if you like - we would all like that surely? That for me is devolution but I don't believe that's what we have on offer. Rather than devolving to existing structures, these proposals create a whole new tier of governance, a whole new level of bureaucracy. We seem to be getting devolution by centralisation. The key for me to these proposals was to establish whether the new structure being proposed added value to what we already have. Can more be done through this model than through existing structures? I don't think that case has been made adequately enough. The biggest hindrance to the existing levels of governance making progress and delivering improvements is money - more particularly the lack of. I find it deeply frustrating that money can be magicked up to support the latest fad idea like devolution but cannot be found to support local government. Reading the deal, I find little about how this new process would speed up decision making, reduce red tape - wheres the how? It talks a lot about here's the extra cash if you sign up to it. And whilst the figures proposed may be initially tempting, the costs of setting all this up, costs running it, the costs in officer time across all authorities, and the opportunity costs lost. through pursuing a red herring could far outweigh the benefits.
There's an implied view that local government isn't working if it cannot deliver for its residents - I do not share this view. If adopted, these plans would weaken our county and district councils and further confuse the local government structure, weakening accountability.
What's worse about this whole situation is that the government does not even trust these areas to come up with their own proposals for their own communities - opposite of the principles of devolution - you can have devolution but you must have a Mayor. I'm normally in favour of consultation and engagement - but this whole consultation is flawed as it does not include a choice over whether to have a mayor and I'll be voting against the deal. I feel let down as a member that I won't be able to make my vote knowing if public support a mayor or not.

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