East Anglian devolution process questions arising

08:07 Friday 20th May 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: A deadline of next Friday has been set to reach an agreement on East Anglian devolution involving Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This timescale was revealed in yesterday’s BBC devolution debate, organised by BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Radio Norfolk and Radio Suffolk. In the meantime a former civil servant has told me he also believes that unnamed local partners suggested Cambridgeshire joins the devolution arrangement, not the Government. Antony Carpen says he reached this conclusion after submitting Freedom of Information requests to the Government.
ANTONY CARPEN: Well I asked whether there was any formal commission or any request to Cambridgeshire, and the answer was again no commission from Ministers or private office exists. I’ve asked them. They’ve stated local partners put forward the proposals. I’ve asked them further who were those local partners, where is the transparency in this? And as we heard in your debate earlier, many people are complaining about lack of transparency.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So the reason that could be significant is because we’ve always been told before that it was the Government who suggested adding Cambridgeshire to a Norfolk and Suffolk devolution plan. The Government saying in these answers to Freedom of Information requests that actually that’s not the case. Who are these ‘local partners’ who stepped forward and suggested Cambridgeshire join in? Lots of unanswered questions then, and just seven days to reach an agreement on this. Our Political Reporter Hannah Olsson has spoken to the head of the East Anglian Devolution Leaders’ Board Andy Wood.
ANDY WOOD: The timescales as they stand, we really ought to be going back to Government next Friday with a good bit of the deal done. Of course after that there are a number of processes that kick in that lead through the summer and then into the autumn. And if we do finally get a deal done, to mayoral elections in May ’17. But as you can see from the discussions today, we are some way away from that. But we are making progress.
HANNAH OLSSON: So what’s happening at the moment in the next couple of weeks? Lots of meetings I imagine.
ANDY WOOD: Yes there are a number of meetings. Of course there are lots of people behind the scenes, employed by county councils and district councils, who are doing lots of work. So there’s lots of stuff going on, in the anticipation that we probably will get a deal. So there will be a number of meetings in that timescale as well of course, because I have no decision making powers in this. This is for local leaders, leaders of their places, to ultimately reach agreement and carry forward to Government. And I’m happy to carry that forward to Government for them.
HANNAH OLSSON: You have got people that are from all sorts of different areas, trying to bring those together to find a bit of common ground. Difficult job?
ANDY WOOD: Well there is. There’s a clearly a sort of county county county council boundaries.(sic) So there’s Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk. That’s one dimension. There’s an urban rural dimension. So there’s much of East Anglia is rural. But we’ve got Cambridge, we’ve got Norwich, we’ve got Peterborough, we’ve got Ipswich. We’ve got towns like Bury St Edmunds. They have a different feel to them. And then of course there’s a different political complexion. So there’s quite a bit of complexity in all of that. But actually overall leaders are focusing on can they get the best deal for their place, and can they get the best deal for East Anglia.
HANNAH OLSSON: So what will you be taking back to leaders from today’s discussion?
ANDY WOOD: Well I suspect a number of them heard it live. I suspect a number have followed it on Twitter. So they probably know anyway, but of course I’ll be talking to them. The big message I think has been the lack of transparency and the lack of communication around this. Now you can’t carry out a negotiation in public of course, and that may have been the reason why there has been a bit of radio silence. But actually we need to step up the communication. There’s no doubt about that. And that’s a big message from today.
DOTTY MCLEOD: That’s our Political Reporter Hannah Olsson talking with the head of East Anglian Devolution Leaders’ Board Andy Wood, who is also the CEO of the Suffolk brewery Adnams. Now Clare King who lives in Cambridge raised several concerns on Twitter while listening to our three county debate yesterday. Morning Clare.
CLARE KING: Morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So certain aspects of the way these devolution plans are working out really trouble you. What in particular has made you angry?

CLARE KING: Well I think it’s as Andy said the lack of communication. But more than that it’s not enough for people just to be told about something. I think that residents have a right to be engaged in the process. And it’s one thing to say that discussions need to go on in private to reach a deal. But then to say that there is no time between reaching that deal and affirming that deal in councils to actually consult with residents, and particularly on the question of an elected mayor, is simply I think outrageous.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what would you want? Would you want a public consultation?
CLARE KING: I would want a referendum.
DOTTY MCLEOD: A referendum.
CLARE KING: Want a referendum on an elected mayor. When they were introduced under the sort of powers in the Cities and Devolution Act, and envisaged from 2012, all the initial ones had referendums. There’s actually been thirteen referendums since 2012 on major cities, and of those ten of those people said no. There’s also been six referendums on whether or not to keep an elected mayor in those cities that already have them, and in those three said no. So I think that it’s really important, if they want an elected mayor which is an entire new layer of bureaucracy, who will be paid, who will have staff, who will eat up a considerable amount of money, that they actually need to make their case properly, and to ask people to agree to it. And if they don’t do that, all that’s happening is it’s being imposed.
DOTTY MCLEOD: You’re saying that the mayor’s office would eat up a considerable amount of money. In fact we don’t know how much money the mayoral team would eat up, because we don’t have details of that. Is that one of the problems?
CLARE KING: Yes indeed it is. For example the mayor is bound to be paid, the mayor can appoint a deputy who will probably be paid. There will be a whole office needed. There’s all the committee structures. And I read the devolution document that was published on the original one for the three counties, and there was something like seven boards that were also going to be set up. So they’ll need officers. It’s an entire new structure. There is no way that it’s going to be inexpensive. And there’s also no way that it’s going to be distant. So if you want to give any democratic accountability and legitimacy to an elected mayor, then you really have to ask people first if they want one.
DOTTY MCLEOD: A referendum though of course would be expensive in itself.
CLARE KING: Referendums are expensive, but in the long term it’s not as expensive as putting in a system that people may not want. Compared to that cost, it’s actually pretty cheap.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Suppose the mayor’s office does cost a bit and suppose the combined authority in whatever form it ends up being or doesn’t end up being does cost a bit. Maybe it would be worth it if it meant better decisions being taken for the region. No?
CLARE KING: Well I think that’s saying that local authorities aren’t capable of taking good decisions on their own. And in fact I think they are. I think that power is best when it’s devolved down to the lowest level, rather than putting in additional structures. So people elect local politicians, and I personally think we have to trust them to be able to do their job and to be able to work with others. Now I’m all for devolution. I’m all for getting more money locally, and the ability to go against certain things. So there might be national policies that might be mitigated better at a local level. That’s not the same as having an elected mayor who is going to be accountable to Whitehall, not to local residents.
DOTY MCLEOD: Ok. Clare, thank you very much for coming in this morning and sharing your views. Clare King there, who lives in Cambridge.