Speech against Devolution – 28th June 2016

Thank you, Lord Mayor.

First, I would like to reiterate thanks to all the officers who have worked so hard to try and make this a good deal for Norwich.

In my speech, I am going to focus on just one of my concerns – this agreement’s focus on businesses and growth rather than quality of life for residents.

The combined authority would be conflicted between serving the public interest and serving business interests, and I feel that the business interests are being given the upper hand.

The combined authority will consist of council leaders; an elected mayor; … and a representative of the Local Enterprise Partnership.

No trade unions, no charities, no other special interest groups of any kind – the LEP will be the single unelected voice on the authority.

Increasing amounts of money and power have been handed to LEPs nationwide in the past few years, yet they have no proper system of overview and scrutiny. They are not even subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

A National Audit Office report concluded that LEPs – quote – “are not as transparent to the public as we would expect given that they are now responsible for significant amounts of taxpayers’ money.”

Unlike all the other representatives on the combined authority, whose remit is to serve the people who elected them, the LEP’s interest is solely in driving economic growth and advancing the interests of businesses, whether or not such “progress” serves our citizens.

In this deal, the LEP has been given the power to influence taxation policy – a veto on an elected mayor’s power to increase business rates by two per cent.  Even then, the under-representation of small businesses on LEPs means that, as usual, it will be large multinationals dictating the agenda.

On top of putting business at the core of its governmental structure, the combined authority will be forced to put the profit motive foremost in its agenda too.

Its 25 million pound allocation to “leverage additional financial benefit” is essentially like a grant to a start-up business – money to make money – which it seems to me is then likely to become the sole purpose of the combined authority – forget about providing services for citizens.

As if that wasn’t enough, the agreement also states that funding allocations will be judged based on whether they have “contributed to national growth” (p.114), which effectively punishes any combined authorities who put the provision of public services before profit – the very opposite of how funding of local government should work.

The devolution proposals are, in my view, a cynical attempt to divert money away from the services that people rely on and towards private sector interests.

Make no mistake: the money being put up for devolution is not ‘new’ money. It is the same money, taken from our taxes, cut from our local authority revenue support grants, claimed for their own agenda by George Osborne and his cronies, and now siphoned off for the private sector instead of being spent on vital services.

We must stand up to these Tory policies that steal public money from the poor and vulnerable.