Sam Davies

Devolution? Or Democratic Dead End?

The stupidity of our governance arrangements, and the obstacles to public understanding of what is going on in our city, becomes more apparent with every passing week.

It’s hard enough for residents to get their heads around, for example, the relationship between the GCP (fronting the Sustainable Travel Zone/’Congestion Charge’ proposals) and the County Council (the body that is ultimately responsible for whether to proceed or not) …and why the City Council plays such a limited role in decisions which will influence their daily life. But events on Wednesday elsewhere, at the Combined Authority, confirm that if you really want to make sense of what’s going on, you need to become acquainted with the detail of political machinations in Peterborough as well!

All this flies in the face of the supposed logic for devolution, as described by the Local Government Association:

“In England, devolution is the transfer of powers and funding from national to local government. It is important because it ensures that decisions are made closer to the local people, communities and businesses they affect. Devolution will provide greater freedoms and flexibilities at a local level, meaning councils can work more effectively to improve public services for their area”

Does anyone think that’s an accurate description of what’s happening here?

Meanwhile, Antony Carpen has drawn our attention to next week’s meeting of ‘England’s Economic Heartland’, yet another highly influential but largely unknown organisation:

England’s Economic Heartland is the sub-national transport body for the region stretching from Swindon across to Cambridgeshire and from Northamptonshire down to Hertfordshire.

Now I’m not suggesting that residents will be queuing up to scrutinise the detailed activities of such bodies, but I do think it’s critical for trust and credibility that people can broadly understand where decisions are being made and who has accountability, particularly when those bodies describe their activities and influence like this:

EEH regularly meets with ministers, MPs and senior departmental officials to discuss regional priorities, alongside making representations through events, consultation responses and other correspondence.

Whose priorities? How are they agreed? Because apparently their work “highlighting the business voice” for East West Rail is responsible for helping to secure government’s recommitment to the project. So what other voices are – or aren’t – being included?

When I presented the infamous Smarter Cambridge Transport graphic of local government arrangements to a residents’ meeting in the north of the city earlier this year, the audience gasped in despair – but of course as you can see from the discussion above, even this isn’t the full picture.

For this reason, I am very pleased to support the recently created grassroots Cambs Unitaries Campaign to rationalise all the current main tiers of local government into two new unitary authorities. The evidence as to why this initiative is necessary is literally all around us; and I would encourage you all to get behind this long-overdue change.

Finally, and still on the subject of who actually pulls the strings, I took part in another ‘Cambridge Challenges’ discussion with Lewis Herbert and Peter Studdert, this time on the subject of Michael Gove’s Cambridge 2040 proposals, i.e. the plan to ‘supercharge’ Cambridge’s growth with potentially 250,000 new homes. As I mentioned on the show, I have it on good authority from two separate sources that business leaders knew these proposals were coming before the public announcement, and before even the Leader of the City Council, Mike Davey, or the Chief Executive, Robert Pollock, were informed.

In terms of where the real devolved power lies, make of that what you will.

You can listen to the show when it’s repeated on Cambridge 105 at 6pm on Tuesday, or it’s available as a podcast.

Sam Davies

1 comment

  • Never mind Cambridge Ahead.

    Never mind Gove’s ‘planning hitman’, Peter Freeman being parachuted in to $#&% all over our local plan from on high….