Consult before devolution plan goes too far, says Observer

Our column by independent writer Observer is all about devolution this week.

Devolution is coming to our part of the South East, but how much do you know about it?

There appears to be little or no public engagement in the process which could change the face of the way we are governed.

Talks are going which would give more power to the counties of East and West Sussex and Surrey (known as 3SC).

‘Perfect sense’

Those powers would, it appears, be devolved from central government.

On the face it, the proposals as they stand make perfect sense, especially when you know the economy of the three counties has a combined value of £74 billion, bigger than Wales or Greater Manchester.

Wealden Council Leader Bob Standley said: “It’s about getting power from government so we can improve the lot of our residents in terms of economic benefits and lifestyle.

‘Greater say in local services’

“Part of the deal has to include double devolution, providing a greater local say in services.

“If this deal doesn’t come off, we need to look at other ways of achieving our aims. I do not want to see another tier of local government.

“It’s about reducing bureaucracy and being more efficient, delivering more services to residents for less money.”

Not a lot to disagree with there, especially that last sentence.

When Cllr Standley spoke he said he hoped there would be “more meat on the bone” by July.

We certainly need more information. For example:

  • How will this 3SC group be democratically controlled?
  • Will there be an elected mayor?
  • Is this just going to be another layer of bureaucracy?
  • Will devolution trickle down so more powers are devolved from the counties to the districts?
  • Will it mean more powers for town and parish councils?
  • Will this be an opportunity to remove at least one layer of local government?
  • How will government become more responsive to the needs of the people?

That’s in no way an exhaustive list but you get my drift.

My big fear is that politicos will take this too far without engaging with the public.

I accept many of the answers are not yet available but before much more progress is made the political leaders should get a feel of public opinion. I have seen a report which states:

“Consideration and approval by Members is considered essential in this process.”

Councils need to do better than that.

More background, via Wealden District Council

A 3SC devolution deal could enable the three counties to make a greater contribution to the national economy by:

  • Agreeing a long-term infrastructure strategy to improve capacity on the rail and road networks and develop the digital infrastructure
  • Action to accelerate housebuilding and improve the range of housing available
  • Greater engagement with business, education and others to ensure
  • employers have access to the skills they need and address barriers to employment for people with lower skills
  • Public service transformation to meet the needs of residents at less cost.

Each county council is looking at its own arrangements for ‘double devolution’ with their borough and district councils.

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