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.
When will the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership (LEP) offer something to small town, rural and coastal Devon?
This was the question I asked Chris Garcia, of the Heart of the South West LEP, when he appeared before the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee (CIRS) at Devon County Council yesterday. Mr Garcia said that Government funding was geared mainly to urban areas, but the LEP has a ‘rural growth commission’ which will publish a report shortly. I shall look out for it.
Mr Garcia didn’t reply, however, to my criticism that the LEP is itself skewed by the ‘white elephant’ new nuclear power station at Hinkley C in Somerset. This project, rashly endorsed by Theresa May who had a chance to halt it, will cause British consumers pay over the odds for electricity for decades to come, based on an unproved type of nuclear station which is not supported even by many who believe nuclear energy is necessary for national energy needs, and in the control of French and Chinese state companies! As renewables get cheaper and electric storage becomes viable, this is a project we don’t need. True, it will bring some jobs to Somerset, but not to most of Devon.
Mr Garcia came with a powerpoint and brandishing the LEP’s latest glossy annual report. I asked that in future, we had proper written reports circulated in advance which members could scrutinise.
Mr Garcia didn’t mention the word ‘devolution’. HoTSW is leaving all that to Devon and Somerset county councils, who apparently now planning to establish a Joint Committee. What that will involve is something else county councillors will need to scrutinise carefully.