Council’s devolution talks criticised

EDA chairman Paul Arnott

EDA chairman Paul Arnott - Credit: Archant

A district council decision to discuss a ‘multi-billion-pound’ transfer of cash and powers to the South West in private has been branded ‘disgraceful’ by the independent East Devon Alliance (EDA).

The Heart of the South West (HOTSW) devolution deal could eventually see East Devon District Council (EDDC) and 16 other local authorities in Devon and Somerset gain more independence from Whitehall.

Supporters say that power over spending on things like growth, infrastructure and health and social care would boost the region’s economy and help create 163,000 new jobs by 2030.

But critics have raised concerns over a lack of public consultation and that the project could end up ‘devolving powers to big businesses’.

EDDC convened last week to consider the latest draft of the bid.

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The item was heard after the press and public had been excluded from the meeting.

The council says that, although the exact details of the bid are confidential at the moment, it is committed to keeping members fully informed through the process.

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But the EDA has condemned the way EDDC handled the discussions.

Its chairman, Paul Arnott, said: “It is unacceptable that councillors of any party are only being provided with information on this multi-billion-pound devolution proposal after insistently demanding it from the council clique.

“Then, when it does arrive, its platitudes and unevidenced waffle are marked ‘confidential’, which misnomer is then used later to close down public debate on grounds of ‘confidentiality’.

“[Last week’s] handling of this matter was disgraceful – an insult to the free press and the council tax payers alike.”

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “Despite the confidential nature of discussions surrounding the devolution deal, we are committed to ensuring that councillors are kept fully informed as the bid goes through further development.

“In January 2016, another draft of the proposal document will be produced and then agreed among the 20 organisations (including 17 local authorities) who are working in partnership in response to the Government’s offer to devolve power and budgets from Westminster to local authorities.”

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