The Leader of South Gloucestershire’s Labour councillors has welcomed the support she has received today in pushing for improvements to the way that West of England devolution will be rolled out.
South Gloucestershire Council, along with its neighbours in Bath and North East Somerset and Bristol City, voted last month to move forward with a government deal to create a Combined Authority with an elected mayor in order to obtain devolved powers and resources from central government. This scheme is now open to public consultation, but this has to be conducted to a government specification which the Labour councillors describe as too narrow.
At the council’s Policy & Resources Committee this morning, Councillor Pat Rooney successfully proposed an enhanced engagement programme and consultation to identify the public’s devolution priorities, working with business, voluntary and public sector partners. She also proposed developing robust and transparent scrutiny arrangements to strengthen the governance of the new authority.
Addressing the meeting, Councillor Rooney told councillors:
“I think we all recognise that many people continue to have reservations about the direction we are taking. By pursuing the modest actions that I outline here we would be putting the public at the centre of our devolution deal – where I believe they belong.
I believe that the local councils should now do all we can to engage local people on shaping life with a combined authority. We need to guard against the Combined Authority becoming too insular, and I think we need to put public engagement at the heart of its operation.”
Councillor Rooney also raised her concern that the money promised in the 30-year deal on the table did not appear to be index linked, and urged council bosses to raise this with the new government ministers with a view to improving the deal. The council’s Conservative leader agreed to take this on board in his ongoing discussions with government.
Councillor Rooney comments:
“I want devolution to deliver benefits for the people of South Gloucestershire, so I am pleased that the Leader has agreed to take up my concerns about index linking the money in the deal. Many people remain sceptical about the deal, so it is right that the council will be doing more to identify the public’s priorities for devolution than the government’s rather narrow process demands.”