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19.11.15

Councils must ditch ‘back-door devolution’ and give public a say

Council leaders in regions signing devolution deals must give the public a say on what have so far been largely back-room agreements, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has said.

It cited this week’s deal in Merseyside as an example of a politically-driven deal, with councillors and government officials agreeing to elect a mayor without consulting citizens.

The ERS argued that devolution’s momentum, picking up pace nationwide, will lose credibility if those actually affected are “left out in the cold” while agreements are made behind closed doors.

Katie Ghose, the campaign group’s chief executive, said: “While it’s fantastic that Merseyside will be getting more powers, it’s absolutely essential that local people are involved in the process. It would be a huge mistake for these important decisions about local democracy to be made behind closed doors.

“It’s vital the public in the region get a say – otherwise, these devolution plans risk floundering and becoming an unpopular mess. A democratic process could look at whether they back having an elected mayor, what area devolution should cover, what powers it should have and what the combined authority’s priorities should be.”

Calling for a real debate about devolution and decentralisation, Ghose suggested running ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ – a debate model pioneered by the ERS – to give people a voice.

In Sheffield, for example, the society ran two assembly sessions where a pool of residents representative of their respective areas were brought together to discuss and vote on devolution plans.

During the meetings, residents rejected the current devolution package that was agreed last month, instead opting for a Yorkshire-wide regional assembly as their preferred model. They called on councillors to turn down the government’s latest offer, including ditching plans for a mayor – but to seek a more ambitious and democratic deal instead of walking away entirely.

The society’s claims closely follows a Commons Public Accounts Committee report claiming that the wave of devolution deals necessitated closer work between the DCLG and local areas to strengthen regional scrutiny and accountability arrangements.

This would ensure the public are engaged in all processes before any negotiations are finalised and initiatives are implemented.

The only region that has so far promised to poll its residents before committing to the north east devolution package with Whitehall is Durham County Council.

Comments

Jim Allan   23/11/2015 at 13:49

If Public Services are to suffer at the hands of the Government's austerity measures, how can the Government justify the costs being incurred by their proposals to centralise decision making to one person in a Region? The money for devolution will come from existing monies, not from new monies. The Business tax will be increased to fund the regional Mayors and yet the business leaders are saying they support the system? they obviously have not read the small print. It would save money if the number of changes to the Public Sector were reduced.

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