John Field’s Report to Gipping Valley: October 2016

Devolution

 

The Government has been failing to hit milestones on time so the devolution process is behind schedule.  There is also significant resistance to change for relatively little benefit.  We would gain an elected Mayor for Norfolk and Suffolk who would have to agree with all decisions of the council leader group who would guide the combined authority.

We gain:

  • a) £25 million a year of new money for the next 30 years (£750 million) to support economic growth, development of local infrastructure and jobs;
  • b) £100 million over five years of new money to support the building of new homes across Norfolk and Suffolk. and £30 million over five years, split equally for Norwich City and Ipswich Borough, to meet their housing needs;
  • c) A guarantee of the existing £225 million annual transport budget until 2021;
  • d) Control of an existing £20 million a year adult skills funding to ensure the training offer matches the needs of local businesses and the local labour market;
  • e) Control of an existing c£2 million Apprenticeship Grant for Employers to enable funding to better meet the needs of local Norfolk and Suffolk employers;

Much of this money is not new but we gain control over what is currently spent.  It all adds up to about £25.5 million a year for two authorities whose current budget is at least £1 billion.

Scrutiny:

I have been asked, “What is Scrutiny?”

Councils used to operate a committee system where groups of councillors from all parties in proportion to the number elected would be decision makers for particular activities.

The system changed to one where a group of about ten “cabinet members” from the largest party formed an Executive or Cabinet.  This Cabinet makes most decisions, largely endorsing individual Cabinet Member views.  This is a quicker process that allows individuals to spend more time developing expertise.  However, power is concentrated in just a few hands that are accountable to you only at election times or to your representatives at full meetings of the council

Scrutiny committees were set up to act as critical friends holding the portfolio holders to account.  We investigate or “scrutinise” policies, service performance, issues of concern to residents and decisions of the Cabinet.  The committee represents a wider set of residents’ views.  Membership is in proportion to the numbers of councillors elected from each party.  We make recommendations for improvements to services and adjustments to policy.

There are three scrutiny committees at County, the main committee where I am vice chair, education and health.  There is one at the district council.

Brexit and its impact on the Local Enterprise Partnership

Our scrutiny of the impact on LEP funding and activities produced some interesting contrasts between the Government and private sector.

Council officers were considering research into the likely effects.  The industry representatives had decided what the impact on them would be and had begun to change their stance to ensure they withstood and exploited the challenges.

The retail sector appeared to believe that as long as the economy does not contract they would be ok.  Landowners appeared to be of the view that a move into tourism would be necessary to counteract the contraction in farming.

Much will remain uncertain for at least a couple of years. However, we need to understand as far as possible what our major industries are, how they will be effected and what response is possible to get the best outcome.

We asked for details of the sectors that are significant, the numbers of companies and employment, the turnover and a view on what will affect each sector.  We felt that research to determine these factors and the actions we need to take should start now, not wait until the direction of negotiations is clear.  That would allow the county to lobby Government on behalf of local industries.

Procurement-Scrutiny Working Party

The county has a vast number of contracts with suppliers particularly now so many services have been outsourced.  The working party felt that there is much to do to sharpen contract control in this comparatively new environment.

14 recommendations covered issues ranging from the acquisition of commercial expertise through improved training for contract managers to contracts that addressed the need to ensure contractor performance could be managed.

We recommended the development of a simple but robust social value policy that demonstrates how the council will consider the economic, social and environmental benefits of its contracting programmes

Housing Development

Outline planning permission for another 130 houses in Great Blakenham was granted on 12 October.  It is impossible to resist such applications as the district lacks land designated for housing that will last 5 years.

However, I do believe that we need housing to accommodate the growing population.  We are all living longer and need our houses for many more years.  At Planning, I emphasised the need to ensure we build infrastructure, pre-school and school places, medical centres, shops, public transport and roads to cope with the increases in children, people and cars.

MSDC move to Endeavour House.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk have at last decided that they need to move to just one headquarters.  They have chosen Endeavour House where they will share the County Council space.

I have to say that while I totally agree that one building is enough I am concerned that several costs were overlooked in the analysis of the benefit.  There are issues of the travel time into Ipswich, the possible need to compensate employees for their travel and the lack of parking.  Needham Market was discounted on some doubtful estimates of refurbishment costs.

Gipping Valley News from John Field