Opposition councillors in South Gloucestershire were left wondering last night after the ruling Conservatives performed a U-turn on a request for a public poll on the West of England devolution deal.
On 13th April the district’s Conservative leader wrote to Government Minister Oliver Letwin asking him to change government rules to allow – and pay for – an indicative referendum on the devolution deal, following similar letters sent by the Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders. When Mr Letwin failed to respond to any of the three leaders, Labour tabled a motion calling for a more formal Council approach to the Minister in identical terms.
When that motion went to last night’s Council meeting, however, the Conservatives amended it with a statement arguing why a referendum is not necessary. Because the Conservatives have an overall majority on the Council, this wording was confirmed and South Gloucestershire Council will not be pursuing a poll on the devolution deal.
Speaking after the meeting, Labour Leader Councillor Pat Rooney said:
“I do not know what has happened in 35 short days to cause the Tories to U-turn from asking for a change of rules to allow a referendum to last night’s statement that there is no need or serious argument for a referendum. One can only speculate about whether they have been leant on not to cause waves, or they never really backed the idea of poll and only wrote to the Minister because we already had.
Whatever the reason, Tory councillors and the Tory Government have joined forces to block local people from having a direct say on the devolution deal, and that is a huge disappointment.”