Society emails County Councillors

Society emails County Councillors
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Consultation finds support for the new Authority is far from overwhelming

On Monday Devon County Council is to meet at 10:30am to vote on whether the proposal for the Devon and Torbay Combined County Authority should be submitted to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for approval. This afternoon we emailed Councillors as follows:

Dear Councillor,

On Monday you are being asked to agree that the proposal for the Devon and Torbay Combined County Authority should be submitted to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for approval.

Before you do I would hope you would consider the words of your colleague Caroline Leaver when referring to the consultation feedback report earlier this week at the meeting of the Council’s Cabinet: "The detail of the response which have been provided by all seven of the district councils and Exeter City Council really show that there is a big concern about the democratic deficit that is here…. what is really stark in the responses here is that all levels of local government feel there is a democratic deficit and the voice of district councils will be diminished. One might say that district councils are being relegated to junior partners in this."

Julian Brazil echoed her point that there were ‘genuine concerns across the Districts about the democratic deficit’.

With Claire Whitton making the point: "While there may be a drive by Devon and Torbay to present this as devolution and that power is being brought closer to people I’m not convinced that is what our residents will feel… For the majority of our residents it will not feel like decision making has come closer to them, but rather the opposite and that it’s gone up to a somewhat remote authority."

Indeed, Julian Brazil was far from convinced that what was on offer is indeed devolution: "Devolution is something we all desperately need, not just here in Devon but across the whole country. But is this Deal devolution? You’re stretching it a bit. The fact that any projects we have to write up and give to government and for government to then say they are ok, that’s not devolution. That’s what we’ve got already. So let’s not pretend that’s delivering devolution."

Instead, and as he emphasised: "This is another layer of governance. And I think the people of Devon should know how much it’s going to cost them."

The answer to that question is also far from clear. The Cabinet were told it was not anticipated the new Authority would need to employ anyone to actually fill the roles of chief executive or monitoring officer or any of the other key positions. Instead that work could be done by existing DCC staff in addition to their current responsibilities.

Yet to accept that premise is to suggest that the individuals in question are currently underemployed, a possibility many residents would find both surprising and unacceptable.

However, should they not prove capable of doing two jobs simultaneously, then clearly there will be costs and, with no Government funding guaranteed beyond the first three years, those costs will fall upon the two Constituent Councils and their residents.

Similarly, and as Julian Brazil emphasised, the £16 million supposedly on offer will only be forthcoming if it is used for and in such a way as central government approves. And that will simply leave the CCA in the position of being a central government sub-contractor with no certainty of any future funding and in need of financial support.

Perhaps more pertinently, and what is also very clear from the Consultation, is that there is no noticeable public support for the new Authority. I attach an analysis of the findings of the consultation feedback report produced by the Society, part of which was published in the local South Hams press earlier this week. I am also attaching the Society’s submission to the consultation itself.

Separately, and as I am sure you are aware, it is noticeable there is no existing democratic mandate for this new Authority. Residents have yet to be given the opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this new Authority.

Consequently, should you vote to submit the proposal to the Secretary of State, you will be imposing a fresh layer of bureaucracy and almost certain cost upon your constituents, after noticeably having failed to obtain their approval, and despite the reservations of your district and many of your town and parish councils.

Hopefully you will therefore agree that it would make sense to defer any decision until after the forthcoming general and county council elections, at which residents can be asked to give their approval for the new Authority, and when the intentions of the next government will be known, what future funding will be available, and what if any costs the County Council might actually incur.

To do otherwise, with only the hope that all might turn out well in the end, is simply to take an unnecessary and irresponsible leap in to the unknown.

With best wishes,

And, should you wish to read the Consultation feedback report you can find it here.