From Cllr Neil Stock, Leader of Tendring District Council
Welcome to this first newsletter outlining the latest on Greater Essex devolution. We will be providing further updates over the coming week as work on our bid progresses.
The story so far…
Britain has become one of the most centralised countries in the world. For too long the major decisions which impact the people and businesses of Greater Essex have been taken by Whitehall departments, which aren’t accountable to local people and don’t understand our needs and aspirations.
Recognising the importance of locally made decisions, the Government has invited areas to put forward their ideas and proposals on how locally devolved powers could benefit residents.
This led in September to all 15 Council Leaders in Greater Essex signing a letter expressing interest in the principle of devolution and agreeing to work together to explore how we could use new devolved powers to benefit our residents, with the aim of signing an agreement with Government in the New Year.
Making the case for devolution
Essex is a large and diverse county, but we share a collective ambition to improve the lives of our residents and create the best conditions for business growth. Shifting powers away from Government to a more local level would enable this to happen, as collectively we would have more influence on the issues affecting us.
As a result we believe we can double the size of the Essex economy over the next decade and, in doing so, create the fastest economic growth outside of London – becoming an Essex ‘Powerhouse’. But most importantly, devolution offers the opportunity for local people to have more influence on the issues that affect them, their families and their communities.
What’s in it for me?
There is no blueprint for devolution, and different regions across the country are considering differing areas they would like to see devolved.
In Greater Essex, we have identified housing, skills and training, and infrastructure as the key themes which will underpin our ambition. To develop these areas, work streams have been set up, each led by a separate Council leader, and an update on these can be seen below. Whilst we believe this could be a great opportunity, we won’t sign a deal unless it is in the best interests of our residents and, of course, any proposal will have to be agreed by each individual council.
We are all also concerned to ensure that this doesn’t reduce the sovereignty of individual councils or create any additional unnecessary bureaucracy. There is a lot to do before we have a deal that we are happy with. So far we have been meeting as Leaders to develop some initial ideas, now we want to open up that conversation to a wider group of people and interests, so that the Greater Essex devolution proposals are the best they can be.
This newsletter is the beginning of that process, so please get in touch with your ideas and comments, either directly with your local leader, with me, or with the key officers supporting their devolution programme, Nicola Beach, Chair of the Essex Chief Executives Association, Nicola.Beach@braintree.gov.uk and Mark Carroll, Greater Essex Devolution Programme Director, Mark.Carroll@essex.gov.uk
Cllr Howard Rolfe, Chief Executive of Uttlesford District Council and Chairman of the Essex Leaders Group.
4 September – Statement of intent sent to Government
7 October – Further detailed submission to Government
17 November – Engagement with Education and Skills Board
24 November – Engagement with Greater Essex Business Board
3 December – Leaders Meeting
11 December – Engagement with SELEP
11 December – Further submission to Government
January – Final draft proposals
Engaging with partners
It is vital that key local partners are involved in the development of our proposals, and we are working with a range of public and private sector groups to ensure they are part of the process.
MPs, police and crime commissioner, police, fire and rescue service and health partners are all being engaged, and we are working with business organisations such as the Essex Skills Board, Essex Chamber of Commerce, Greater Essex Business Board, South Essex Growth Partnership and South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) to ensure they have opportunity to shape the bid.
Following the letter to Government, work is taking place to drive forward our case for devolution. To support this, six work streams have been created with separate leaders working on each.
Fiscal: Cllr Louise McKinlay (Brentwood) supported by Cllr David Finch (Essex)
Economic Growth, Infrastructure and Connectivity: Cllr Phil Turner (Basildon) supported by Cllr Paul Smith (Colchester)
New Homes and Communities: Cllr Graham Butland (Braintree) supported by Cllr Colin Riley (Castle Point)
Employability and Skills: Cllr Ron Woodley (Southend) supported by Cllr Miriam Lewis (Maldon)
Governance: Cllr Neil Stock (Tendring) supported by Cllr Jon Clempner (Harlow) and Cllr Terry Cutmore (Rochford).
Communication: Cllr Kevin Bentley (Essex) supported by Cllr Colin Riley (Castle Point).
Fiscal: Critical to our ambition is a package of devolved fiscal freedoms and responsibilities from Government.
If through our investment and hard work we can generate additional revenue for Government, we believe that we should be able to retain a greater proportion of that additional income and use it to invest in services and infrastructure that will benefit the people of Greater Essex.
Recent announcements of the plans to allow local authorities to retain 100% of all business rates revenue are an important step, but more clarity is needed on the formula that underpins this.
Moving forward we want to see further freedom to reform Council Tax, covering means tested single-person discount, removing the requirement for referendums and putting council tax on an equal footing with other UK taxes.
We also want the ability to pool and manage funding across longer budget cycles so allowing for strategic infrastructure investment.
Economic Growth, Infrastructure and Connectivity: Within this work stream the focus is on four key areas: Major Infrastructure, Growth Hubs, World Class Transport and Smart Greater Essex. Strategic infrastructure projects and developing our growth hubs will create increased productivity and enable new inward investment, supporting our aim of becoming the fastest growing economy outside London.
This will be underpinned by gaining powers to improve our transport system, delivering regional solutions for our major road and rail arteries, and providing broadband and digital infrastructure for our new communities and developments.
New Homes and Communities: Our ambition is to create greater certainty in the delivery of housing to meet identified need, increasing the historic yearly rate of house building. Currently in Greater Essex the average house price is eight times the average salary.
Through devolution we are looking to create a single public sector land commission; so that we can make better use of surplus and under-used public sector land and buildings. We are also looking at the potential to maximise the opportunities for larger housing developments, where appropriate, to be supported with the necessary infrastructure.
Employability and Skills: We want to change the system to give businesses access to a suitably skilled workforce with a supply of technically skilled workers. This means having the right interventions and support to get the needed talent and skills over the short, medium and long term.
Central to delivering the ambition and a reformed system will be an innovative new Joint Venture Partnership vehicle (JVP) between business, local authorities and central Government. The JVP will oversee strategic programmes focused on three major themes, the provider marketplace, workplace skills and productivity and the economically inactive.
Governance: We cannot pretend it will be easy to develop a structure and a prioritisation of resources that always satisfies the different demands of all partners, so good governance will be key to the success of the Greater Essex devolution bid.
We will be working on a “presumption in favour of devolution” – that is to say we will expect Whitehall to agree to devolve all powers that we seek unless they can demonstrate why they shouldn’t. Likewise, that same principle of subsidiarity will ensure that decisions, powers and funding are taken at the most local level appropriate at all times, recognising the strength of the different geographical and economic areas that make up Greater Essex.
A shadow ‘Combined Authority’ would be established with a representative from each of the 15 authorities. This would not replace existing council, but simply becomes the body responsible for overseeing the new powers and responsibilities.
To find out more about Combined Authorities visit www.local.gov.uk/devolution
Cllr Neil Stock,
Leader of the Tendring District Council