The ruling Conservative group on South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) has come under fire from opposition parties for planning to make a critical decision on whether or not to accept the Government’s proposed devolution deal for the West of England – which is conditional on the creation of a directly-elected Metro Mayor – without carrying out a formal public consultation.
The devolution deal has been proposed between the Government and the four local authorities in the West of England – Bristol City, North Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire Councils – and promises investment of more than £1 billion over a 30 year period.
Now that a deal has been negotiated with Government, the four authorities must decide whether or not they wish to accept it. These decisions will be taken by councillors in each area at council meetings in June. In South Gloucestershire, this meeting will take place on Wednesday 29th June.
Before those meetings, SGC is providing an opportunity for the public to find out more about the deal and to have their say via a dedicated webpage at www.southglos.gov.uk/devolution
However, Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire are unhappy with the low profile, informal consultation that has been launched ahead of the decision. Their leader, Cllr Ruth Davis, said:
“This is an incredible offer coming our way, and we need the public to be engaged. We could have launched a proper consultation when this was announced in the budget. We don’t have time for that anymore, but at least we can publicise it better, and make sure it’s linked to from the consultation website where people are normally asked for their views.”
Similarly, the Labour group has criticised the Tories for making what they describe as a “U-turn” on cross-party calls for an indicative referendum on the devolution deal, speculating that they might have been “leant upon” not to cause waves. Their leader, Cllr Pat Rooney, said:
“Tory councillors and the Tory Government have joined forces to block local people from having a direct say on the devolution deal, and that is a huge disappointment.”
The West of England is already the country’s most economically productive city region outside of London, with a number of flourishing sectors. However, it also faces growing pressure on infrastructure – particularly in areas such as transport and housing. The proposed deal could help the West of England to meet this challenge.
South Gloucestershire Council Leader, Cllr Matthew Riddle, said:
“South Gloucestershire is an integral part of the West of England region, which is itself the biggest engine for growth in the UK outside of London. In order to keep growing, to deliver services for residents and a future for the next generation through new infrastructure, skills and employment, we need more investment. The West of England Devolution Deal provides an opportunity for us to share in £1billion to achieve that aim.”
“The deal would bring more money, more powers and more local decision-making, to help us focus on the key priorities for the region including transport, investment, funding, skills training, business support, housing and strategic planning. All of this will benefit South Gloucestershire as these issues are bigger than any single local authority boundary, but joint decisions will reflect local priorities.”
“The deal on offer is among the best negotiated across the country, but the Government have been clear it is conditional on the introduction of an elected Metro Mayor. It would put us as a group right at the top table when it comes to discussing new opportunities for future Government investment in the region in future.”
“We want to hear the views of residents before we make our decision on whether to proceed with the deal, or not, as a council. I would encourage people to read the deal document and the frequently asked questions and let us know what they think.”
What happens next?
If the deal goes forward, there would be a period of consultation with the public on how the deal is implemented on behalf of the Secretary of State. This would be an opportunity for the public to express their views to Government.
In October 2016, an order would be laid in Parliament to approve the proposed deal.
If all other stages have been completed, an election for the West of England Mayor would take place in May 2017.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.