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Green councillor's statement on devolution

Statement from Green Councillor Charlie Bolton

Statement to Cabinet and Full Council - Weds 29th June 2016

As Green councillors, we welcome aspects of the devolution deal, but also have significant concerns about aspects of it.

Green councillors welcome:

The principle of devolution

We welcome the principle of taking powers away from central government and devolving them to a more appropriate level. We therefore applaud the devolving of transport, adult education, skills and planning powers.

Transport powers

We specifically welcome the devolution of transport powers. We have recognised for many years that for transport to progress, we need regional coordination and secure funding.

Additional funding

We welcome receiving the £30m per annum for 30 years

Green councillors have concerns and suggestions on:

Equality and environmental protection

The core aim of the deal is defined as promoting economic growth. It is vital that promotion of equality and environmental protection are given the same priority as growth. As such, we welcome reference to promotion of equality and environmental protection in the documentation. However, assuming the deal is accepted, equality and climate change indicators must be key elements in the economic model that will be commissioned to define which projects get funding and used to measure success.

Centralisation of power to the elected Metro-Mayor and cabinet:

We have deep concerns about the way in which the devolution deal centralises power into the hands of the Metro-Mayor, and the three local authority leaders. In fact, the structure – apart from scrutiny, and as with the WoE partnership - specifically excludes opposition. We call on the Mayor of Bristol to work with other authorities to address this issue. We also call for the Metro-Mayor to be elected using proportional representation.

Strong scrutiny:

Strong and effective scrutiny at combined authority level is vital for accountability. We need to be assured that scrutiny will be properly funded, and independent. We need the devolution scheme to demonstrate how this will be achieved.

Concern with the process and the lack of consultation:

We have concerns about how little councillors and local communities have been involved in developing the devolution deal and the rushed pace at which it has been developed. Councillors have not had the opportunity to input into the deal in a meaningful way. Final information on the deal has only been presented a few days before the decision has had to be made and there has been very limited scope for meaningfully suggesting changes or improvements.

The public consultation process will not be long enough to enable the public to input meaningfully, and there does not seem to be provision for the outcome of the consultation to change the details in the deal. The deal has been presented throughout as ‘take it or leave it’ which has limited the many ways in which it could have been improved and built upon.

Influence of LEP

We are concerned at the level of influence the LEP will have. We understand that the LEP will need to approve any rise in business rates. While we recognise that business could have a role to play in regional governance, we do not see why this should take precedence over others such as equality groups, the environmental sector, the voluntary sector and unions.

Conclusion

In addition to the above, although we are told that powers will not be delegated upwards without the constituent authorities’ consent, we are concerned that this only requires consent from the three Council leaders and not Full Council. We fear that over time powers will pass upwards without Full Council approval, and we strongly suspect that the budgets passed down will include cuts. At worst, we think it possible that this is the beginning of the end of the three local authorities who participate.

This is a far from perfect deal, but a strong commitment to equality and environmental protection, combined with a meaningful consultation process will make it more palatable to ourselves, and, we believe residents of the areas concerned.

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