Month: December 2017
CCG, RD&E speakers at Honiton community event to begin ‘co-designing and co-producing’ local health services/activities – we need a similar meeting in Seaton too
Conservatives block my call for the County Council to ‘speak up for Devon’ in the debate over the European Single Market and Customs Union – but it will produce an impact assessment
As the Brexit negotiations finally entered the phase of talking about the UK’s future economic relationship with the EU, I asked the County Council this week to speak up for Devon’s interests in the debate about whether we should stay in the European Single Market and Customs Union.
However my motion that we should stay in both arrangements as we leave the EU, because of the benefits they bring to Devon’s economy and the damage which leaving them will cause, was remitted to the Cabinet who will report back to the next Council meeting in February.
I argued that the motion should have been discussed this week. Pointing out that the DUP, SNP and Mayor of London had come forward to speak for their regional interests, I criticised our MPs for failing to speak as a group for Devon and the South West’s obvious interests in keeping close economic relationships with Europe. I said the Council should speak up and make it clear to Government which kind of Brexit we wanted. All opposition councillors (Liberal Democrats, Labour, Independent and Green) supported my call to debate the motion in the meeting, but the Tory majority voted to postpone the motion for two months.
One good thing did come from the proposal – Council leader, John Hart, promised that Cabinet would look at the evidence on the impact of Brexit on Devon in coming to their recommendation for the next meeting. Although I argued that we have enough evidence to make a judgement now (see below), it will be useful for the Council to do this work. Let’s hope their ‘impact assessment’ is a bit more thorough than the Government’s!
Note. I am fully aware that the majority of voters in Seaton & Colyton, and in Devon, supported leaving the EU. This is not about that decision – it’s about getting sensible terms for the future economic links. Some points I would have made if I’d been allowed to speak fully on this:
- By value, the SW has the highest proportion of goods exported to the EU of any UK region, rising above 60% in 2015 compared to national average of 44%. The value of SW goods exports to the EU has increased markedly in the last few years. We have actually had a positive trade balance, unlike many regions.
- 70% of Exeter’s and 68% of Plymouth’s exports go to the EU. These are the two highest figures of any UK cities.
- Exeter University is one of the top recipients of EU grants. While tourism to Devon has benefited from the weak pound which Brexit has caused, recent figures have shown that international students bring greater economic benefits to Exeter than tourism does.
- While we do not have figures for the losses of EU and international staff from Devon’s NHS and care system, our officers have stated that this is a major concern.
- Farming has a larger share in Devon than in the rest of the UK economy. Neil Parish MP says that ‘The EU is a vital market for British agriculture and food & drink exports. EU member states account for 7/8 of the UK’s top agricultural export markets. In 2015, 93% of all British beef exports went to the EU – a trade worth £320 million.’
Given all this information, it is very clear what kind of relationship with the EU is in Devon’s interests:
- Neil believes that for agriculture, ‘it’s crucial the UK retains a close relationship with the EU market’.
- Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU has backed a temporary customs union with the EU after Brexit.
- Exeter University as part of the Russell Group of leading universities is lobbying to remain part of the EU Framework Programmes for research, to reassure EU staff that they have a future in the UK and to ensure new EU staff can be recruited.
- Remaining in the Single Market is vital for selling goods and services to the EU, and to ensure we recruit and retain sufficient EU workers to support our NHS, social care, farming and hospitality sectors – new figures show that migration into the SW has fallen more sharply than in the SE.
- The Customs Union is crucial for all our exporters, whether in manufacturing, farming or services, to avoid bureaucratic obstacles to trade which will hit small businesses hardest.
- The Centres for Cities estimates that a ‘hard’ Brexit, leaving these arrangements, will roughly double the hit to Devon’s and Exeter’s economies compared to ‘soft’ Brexit.
There is no point in developing a SW strategy for productivity and growth, if we don’t first stop the harm that leaving the Single Market and Customs Union will cause.
Labour joins Tories at Devon County Council to support joint ‘devolution’ with Somerset, against Independent, Lib Dem and Green opposition
Most Labour members joined the Conservative majority on Thursday in voting down my amendment for the County Council to revisit its controversial ‘devolution’ proposals to join Devon with Somerset in the so-called Heart of the South West, first in a formal Joint Committee and then (envisaged but not proposed at this stage) in a Combined Authority. I argued that the proposals for an extra layer of bureaucracy have no democratic consent – they were not even in the Conservatives’ Devon manifesto last May.
I argued that we were being asked to support ‘a regional economic strategy that doesn’t add up to a government which doesn’t know what it’s doing about devolution, and for this we’re prepared to enter a half-baked new constitutional arrangement which will probably have to be scrapped as soon as a more rational government devolution policy is devised.’
Six of Labour’s Exeter members followed the line of Exeter City Council which is joining the Tory-run County and district councils in supporting the current devolution proposals (one abstained). They believe that Exeter’s economy will gain from the (currently unknown) amount of money the devolution bid will gain from government (which of course will be giving back a small proportion of the money it is currently taking from services). I argued that the plan does not have a viable economic strategy behind it, and that rural, coastal and small-town Devon stands to gain virtually nothing from it.
Liberal Democrat and Green councillors joined Independents in voting for my amendment. The webcast will be available here.
At last, recognition that small towns have very different situations from cities, especially for young people. The new Centre for Towns sounds very interesting.
Many of Britain’s towns are shrinking; big-city Britain is largely thriving. Taking south Wales as an example of these divisions, Ian Warren explains why his new Centre for Towns will advocate for the future of our towns, particularly during a period when both major parties in the UK parliament appear committed to city regions.
The Leader, Cllr John Hart, has taken up the case. I had brought this to the attention of the Council’s Chief Officer for Transportation, and I’m pleased to see that John Hart has spoken out strongly on this.
As DCC is asked to approve a new layer of bureaucracy for ‘devolution’, its Scrutiny Committee says productivity strategy on which project is based is ‘unrealistic’
Devon County Council will be asked on Thursday to approve the setting up a ‘Joint Committee for the Heart of the South West’, which is the first step towards setting up a full Combined Authority of the Devon and Somerset county, unitary and district councils. The purpose is negotiate a ‘devolution’ deal with the Government to promote economic growth, under which some powers and limited funding (far less than the amounts being taken away by the Government from Council funding for services) will be made available.
This new layer of bureaucracy will be made up of two leading members of each council, so that its composition will be almost entirely Conservative. This is going ahead although most people in Devon and Somerset don’t even know they live in something called the ‘Heart of the South West’. The Devon-Somerset link-up (rather than with Cornwall or Dorset) is driven by the Hinkley C nuclear white elephant, the grossly expensive project for a new nuclear power station of unproven type, with huge UK public subsidies to companies owned by the French and Chinese states.
The ‘devolution’ bid will be based on a ‘productivity strategy’ drawn up by the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership, a quango dominated by business interests (some of them with Hinkley connections). However last Tuesday, DCC’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee approved the following comprehensive criticisms of the ‘strategy’ (which I proposed), branding its main aim ‘unrealistic’:
The Committee notes the work to develop a Joint Committee, but believes that the revisions to the Heart of the South West Productivity Strategy will be needed if a bid for devolved powers and funds is to be successful:
- The ambition to double the size of the economy in 18 years, involving an annual growth rate of 3.94%, is unrealistic given that the regional annual rate over the last 18 years has been 1.5% and the national growth rate, which has not exceeded 3% in a single year during that period, is now forecast to average less than 1.5% p.a. in the next five years.
- The very ambitious aim of moving from less-than-average to above-average productivity is not credible since the Strategy lacks the wide range of specific proposals needed to raise productivity across the board and contains little detail on how gaps in higher skills levels will be filled.
- The Strategy does not adequately address the obstacles to higher-than-average productivity in sectors with endemic low pay and casual working, like social care and hospitality, which are disproportionately represented in the local economy; by our older-than-average population; and by underemployment.
- The Strategy says little about rural Devon, and needs to include the key recommendations of the South West Rural Productivity Commission.
- The Strategy does not emphasise sufficiently the shortfall in broadband provision and the radical investment needed if we are not to fall further behind other regions.
- The Strategy does not provide details of the opportunities of Brexit which it mentions, nor does it take account of risks such as a decline in investment due to uncertainty; issues for firms exporting to Europe if the UK is not part of a customs union; and threats to the knowledge element of our economy due to our universities losing EU staff and research opportunities.
- The Strategy needs to show how we will respond to automation and Artificial Intelligence.
- The Strategy needs to indicate clear performance indicators through which we will measure its success.
- The Strategy needs to align more explicitly with the Government’s new Industrial Strategy and ‘sector deals’ which may provide funding.
- The Strategy needs to explain what kind of devolution will help us meet our aspirations and articulate clear, realistic selling-points and asks of Government.
- The Strategy needs to include more specific proposals for transport links, including rail and other public transport. [wording of this point to be confirmed]
The Chief Officer for Highways, Meg Booth, presented a report to Devon County Council’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee this week which says that ‘Work is ongoing with Skanska [the Council’s contractor] using a “Systems Thinking” approach to review the management of safety defects.’
I welcomed this and told Ms Booth that the existing policy, under which only potholes 300mm+ wide or 40mm+ deep at the edge are regarded as ‘safety defects’ – leading to one pothole being filled while one next to it is left – has no public support. I have discussed this with every one of the 9 parish councils in Seaton and Colyton and and the policy has no credibility either with councillors or members of the public. Let’s hope we will now see a more comprehensive policy towards potholes!