25 May 2016
Green Party county councillors have today written an open letter to Andy Wood, the lead negotiator for "the region" with the Government regarding the devolution settlement. In it they outline a number of major concerns they have with the proposals as they stand at the moment.
The full text of the letter can be found here:
Dear Dr Wood,
Devolution (East Anglia) – open letter from Green Party councillors
We are writing to you, as lead negotiator for the Eastern region with the Government on devolution, on behalf of elected Green Party councillors across the region . Over the last year, we have consistently rejected the government’s plans as lacking public endorsement and not being true devolution. Our concerns relate to the overall governance arrangements, lack of environmental credentials and marginalisation of true community devolved powers.
We understand that the deal that will go to councils across the region in late June is to be agreed very shortly, and here we present the conditions under which we could support any deal in these council debates. (We do not seek to address, at this stage, the issue of one or two sets of devolved powers, and our conditions are neutral on this aspect.)
1. No elected Mayor(s). There is wide opposition to this element from the region’s politicians and the public, and we do not repeat the arguments in detail here. The proposed area is too large and the needs of its citizens too diverse for one individual to represent effectively. An elected mayor would add a costly, additional level of top-down hierarchy to the region, and would in the first instance be accountable to Whitehall. Electing a single individual for such a large area would remove local people from local decision making. It is not a true decentralisation of power and we cannot support it.
2. Proportionately elected combined authorities. The only way that the views of communities may be represented at a regional level is by a combined authority which is fully elected on a proportional basis. Directly elected members would then be accountable to the local people who elect them.
The current proposal for a Cabinet made up of Council leaders: this both lacks accountability to the public and any provision for existing elected councillors at existing county and district councils to scrutinise or have their say. It is party-politically biased, favouring in our region a single political party that controls most of the region’s local authorities. Smaller parties (the Greens, Liberal Democrats and UKIP in our region) and Independent Councillors are completely excluded. Fair political balance may only be achieved by proportional representation.
Further, the governance arrangements should include establishing Devolution Scrutiny Committees within the current upper-tier authorities (ie Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils, and Peterborough Unitary) that include members of the community as well as councillors.
3. Objective of Environmental Stewardship at the highest level. The highest given objective of the draft deal (as in the “The Opportunity” section) is “accelerated growth”. However, the primary objective of East Anglian Combined Authorities must be to address head-on the worst consequences of climate change. We need to ensure that the region is resilient to the effects of climate change that are already locked in, and that we ameliorate the long-term effects as much as we can by rapidly reducing the region’s carbon footprint.
All options for infrastructure development must be evaluated against rigorous carbon footprint appraisal, and this should be built into the deal. It should explicitly state that low-carbon pathways will be favoured and selected. We oppose "accelerated growth" as the raison d'être of the deal, as this is not consistent with the 21st-century challenges posed by climate change. We must find ways to improve the life chances and quality of life for residents in our region, which does not require rapid environmental destruction.
East Anglia has areas rich in wildlife and beautiful natural heritage treasures. Our region is one of the last remaining outposts of our green and pleasant land in a highly over-developed south-eastern corner of the UK. Protecting the natural heritage and environment of the East of England must be central to meaningful devolution in East Anglia.
The deal must also ensure that the representation of the Local Economic Partnerships is balanced by representation from the voluntary sector and environmental organisations.
4. Reform of local power and funding. Currently, parish / town councils and community groups operate in a patchy and erratic way. Urban areas have large populations with no parish councils. For example, unparished parts of Peterborough under unitary authority (with no district level) have no representation at a local level, and suffer all sorts of social, environmental and economic stresses. Where there are district or city councils, parity across areas is not often achieved. The devolution deal should include a detailed process to reform how powers and funding are devolved down to parish / town councils and community groups with the clear intention to improve consistency between areas, and provide more uniform access to powers and funding at the local community level.
Localisation of power and decision making is a basic tenet of Green philosophy, and meaningful devolution would be widely welcomed by Green Party members and supporters. But the proposed agreement lacks the legitimacy of public endorsement. Improved democratic engagement is essential if we are to build a stronger, more inclusive civil society. We are also demanding a revised East Anglian devolution agreement which should be put to a public referendum. A referendum could reasonably be held in May 2017, with elections for the Combined Authority taking place in May 2018.
Councillor Richard Bearman
Leader of the Green Party
Norfolk County Councillors
Councillor Mark Ereira-Guyer
Leader, Green & Independent Group
Suffolk County Council