Devo bids process blasted for promoting ‘short-term’ plans

by Dan Peters - The MJ 03/09/2015

A senior sector figure has suggested the Treasury’s devolution bid process encourages a short-term approach as groups of councils race to meet tomorrow’s deadline.

As Whitehall’s cut-off for submitting devolution plans loomed, director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), Graeme McDonald, criticised the process that has left councils scrambling to agree proposals over the usually quiet summer months.

The deadline is understood to have been chosen for political reasons to allow a series of deals to be announced in November’s Spending Review.

A Whitehall insider said: ‘The Government does want councils to come forward early.

'Areas should not want to be left behind.

‘Be ambitious, get it right but don’t wait forever.

'The Treasury is open-minded so now is the time to strike.

'There’s potentially an enormous offer on the table.’

But Mr McDonald told The MJ: ‘It is short-term and lacks a longer-term strategy.

'I think some of that is understandable because the Government doesn’t want to be prescriptive but a complete absence [of criteria] means that people will only focus on the short-term and what they can get done in the next few weeks.

‘They’ve been quite prescriptive about the governance arrangements so you’d think they could be more prescriptive about some other things [like the kind of things that would be considered acceptable].’

The Whitehall source said: ‘A bit of friendly rivalry is no bad thing.

'Any deals will not be set in stone; it’s an ongoing process.

'This is not the final, absolute deadline or the only opportunity.’

SOLACE president Mark Rogers had called for the Local Government Association (LGA) to help put together a pan-local government devolution proposition to Whitehall.

He tweeted: ‘What’s the LGA for if not to lead local government when it’s needed?’

A LGA spokesman said Smith Square had been working with councils to support devolution discussions where needed.

He continued: ‘Different places are seeking different elements and levels of devolution and we wouldn’t want to get in the way of local approaches being developed.

'We will continue to share our intelligence with councils about how deals are progressing and join up places to share knowledge directly.’

as reported in The MJ by Dan Peters -

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