An inauspicious start for new Scrutiny Committee for the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership

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Who would have known? The previously unaccountable quango, the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership, which dispenses public money but whose board is made up mainly of businessmen, now has a scrutiny committee all of its own, recently established in some haste to meet newly imposed legal requirements. The first meeting took place five days ago, but little seems to have happened, judging from the minutes. There is currently no opportunity for public participation and no webcast.

The committee will have 17 members, with 13 Tories (11 confirmed – two representatives of Conservative-controlled district councils to be named), 3 Labour members (2 from Plymouth and 1 from Devon) and 1 Lib Dem from Somerset. Thus Independent and Green members have been entirely excluded, while there is only minimal opposition representation. The ruling Tories on the two county councils have used their majorities – obtained with less than 50 per cent of the votes in the 2017 election – to collar three quarters of the county seats, in addition to all those from the districts they control.

It’s worth mentioning that the Heart of the South West (geographic Devon and Somerset – but few local residents will recognise it under its marketing name) also has a Joint Committee of the Councils, with 19 members even more unevenly distributed by party (16 Tories, 2 Labour, 1 Lib Dem, no Independents or Greens).

Will all this bureaucracy give a new steer to the LEP, notorious so far for its bias towards the Hinckley new power station (it is even funding a hotel for officials of the foreign companies behind the project to stay in), its neglect of coastal and rural areas, and its fantastical plans for the South West to overtake London in productivity?

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