This week almost 80 percent of voters in Bath and North East Somerset, when asked in a referendum whether they wanted an elected mayor, said no.
Today we hear that the new ‘Eastern Powerhouse’, the latest and most ambitious iteration of the devolution plans for the East is to be headed by, yes you guessed it, an elected Mayor. As far as I can remember however no resident of Suffolk, Norfolk or Cambridgeshire has been asked their opinion on the subject. I suspect if they were the answer would not be much different from that of the good people of Bath and North East Somerset.
The Government are clearly not in the mood to be contradicted in this matter. ‘I will not impose this model on anyone. But nor will I settle for less’ was George Osborne’s comment when asked about elected mayors. So that’s clear then!
Moreover, it appears that not every council in the East is that enthusiastic about the ‘Powerhouse’. The Leader of Cambridge City Council poured cold water on the idea on Look East today and it has been no secret that Cambridgeshire as a whole was less than enthusiastic when belatedly instructed to join the process very recently.
I really do wonder whether central Government has a clue what it is doing with regard to devolution. What was an ill thought through seat of the pants promise made to the English regions during the Scottish Referendum has developed into the most chaotic process imaginable. At one stage it seemed that the Government genuinely wanted ideas to come from the bottom up. Suffolk Leaders accordingly submitted their ideas for devolved powers, but these were quickly sent back so that Norfolk might be included in the mix. Weeks later cold water was poured on this second attempt because the Government now wanted to see Cambridgeshire (and possibly parts of North Essex) to be included.
This seems to me to be policy making as conducted in a madhouse. I can do no better than quote a ‘local government source who has been involved in the East Anglian devolution discussion’ speaking to the MJ (formerly the Municipal Journal) of Thursday 3rd March.
‘The Government is desperate to get some bids in so they can announce them in the Budget. There’s a real pressure to get something agreed.
Its neither bottom up nor top down. The Government only knows what it doesn’t want when it sees it, so everyone’s second guessing.
With the Government moving the goalposts every five minutes the devolution process feels really random, a bit panicky and rushed.’
Oh and then there’s the small matter of asking residents, and also most councillors, for their views….. Don’t even think about it! Like the people of Bath and North Somerset they might give the wrong answers.