Tainting a good idea

Combined authorities in the balance

It may be Budget day before we learn whether any part of central southern England will reach agreement with the government on a ‘devolution deal’.  But the chaotic process of recent months may have damaged the credibility of what is, at its heart, a very good idea.

In the past few weeks, the Hampshire and Isle of Combined Authority, widely regarded as the best developed and most widely supported devolution proposal, apparently stalled. Negotiations then opened between some (but not all) of the councils involved in the Partnership for Urban Southampton Hampshire (PUSH)  area. In recent days it seems the Hampshire proposals may have come back on the agenda, though it remains possible however that the south Hampshire deal will remain in play. The process has not been helped by the involvement of two government departments – the Treasury and Communities and Local Government – sometimes in separate conversations with different local authorities.

Southampton City Council leader Simon Letts told BBC South on Sunday that he expected a deal based on Solent councils to be announced in the budget. It appears, however, that this would exclude New Forest, Test Valley and Winchester Councils that are all currently part of the Parnership for Urban Southampton Hampshire, but would include all of East Hampshire including large areas that are currently outside the PUSH area.

Meanwhile in Oxfordshire, which seemed to be moving forward with its own devolution proposals, the row between the Prime Minister and the Conservative Leader of the County Council has spilled over into a radical proposal – backed by the County’s MPs – to break up the County into four unitary local councils.  In Dorset, where devolution proposals were published in September, the debate has also moved towards the abolition of the County Council and its replacement with two unitary councils. Devolution plans for Surrey and Sussex have stumbled on the failure to reach agreement with Brighton, and the rest of the region’s councils are sitting out the whole devolution debate until how it will work is made clearer.

Unlike the northern city regions, southern local authorities enjoyed little history of the close cooperative working and deep relationships that had taken decades to build in Manchester. It was always going to be difficult to build them in a few months, but it was made harder by the lack of any clear ground rules, and changes in central government policy.

Back in the summer, local authorities were drawn together by the prospect of retaining 100% of business rates and the need to reach cooperative agreements between authorities. By October, all local authorities were told they would keep their business rates whether or not they were in a devolution deal,. The rules were also changed so that new combinations and divisions of authorities could be proposed. These changes weakened the glue that was holding deals together and some began to fragment as they have in Hampshire/IoW, Oxfordshire and Dorset.

Further difficulties were caused by the Government’s insistence on the imposition of elected mayors. It seems the near collapse of the Hampshire deal was nothing to do with the quality of its economic development or public service proposals but the rejection by the majority of Hampshire council leaders of an elected mayors. It appears that one reason that the government has enterntained a southern combined authority is the willingness of those council leaders to accept a mayor. If the Hampshire deal is to go ahead it will require a change of heart on this issue.

At this point it looks like the government is willing to trade proper decision-making for the political face-saving of achieving an elected mayor. Yet, the impact of elected mayors can be overstated. Far from all powerful, the  new elected mayor of Great Manchester will be one person amongst a committee of 11 local authority leaders. Their own real powers stretch no further than Policing and Fire and Rescue. We already have Police and Crime Commissioners across the region and, in December, the Government floated plans to give all PCCs oversight or Fire and Rescue. In other words, we are close to getting someone with many mayoral powers whether or not there is a devolution deal. However, the one real advantage of having a fully-fledged elected mayor is the right to raise and keep additional business rates for economic development.

With so much uncertainty and upheaval it’s hard to be confident that we will see any quick boost to economic growth and/or the more efficient public services that are at the heart of the devolution idea. According to our research this is what the region needs, and it’s what business wants.

The vision, of powerful combined authorities cooperating together across the region looks a very long way away. The integration of health and services – perhaps the biggest single prize in terms of more effective and efficient public services – will be hard to deliver in the middle of local government reorganisation and many of the new authorities will be too small to integrate their services with health on their own. The poor alignment of economic development, political and health boundaries highlighted in our earlier report will remain or become worse.

And slowly but surely, for better for worse, the death of the English County Council takes a few steps forward. But that, like all the other issues in this article, has not been the subject of any public debate or consultation. Yet, as our work on the citizens assemblies showed, these are issues that the public and business can engage in and contribute to.

Professor John Denham

Chair, Southern Policy Centre

Assembly South report

Introduction

Assembly South was part of an important new experiment in how to organise democracy effectively. It consisted of a group of 23 citizens and 6 councillors from the Solent and Isle of Wight area who met in Southampton over two weekends in October and November 2015 to discuss the future of local governance. The aim was to select the citizens randomly to be broadly representative of the local adult population. During the two weekends, they learned about the different options, consulted with advocates of a range of views, deliberated on what they had heard, and formed recommendations.

Read the full report here

Assembly South was one of two citizens’ assembly pilots organised by Democracy Matters, a collaboration of university researchers and civil society organisations supported by the Economic and Social Research Council. The second pilot assembly, Assembly North, ran over the same period in Sheffield and has produced its own report.

The main aims were:

  1. To assess whether the creation of citizens’ assemblies could improve the operation of democracy in the UK and to build knowledge on how such assemblies might best be run;
  2. To investigate what members of the public in England think about devolution when they are given the opportunity to learn about and debate the issue in depth.

Participants voted that if there were to be a new devolved body:

  • It should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area, instead of other options like the South East or Solent
  • Health and social care integration should be the most important priority for the body, followed by public transport, business support and housing investment
  • There was a dead heat on the question of whether participants would vote for or against the current deal on the table

A key finding of the research team is that randomly selected citizens are ready, willing and able to engage with complex policy and governance debates when given appropriate support and opportunity.

This report sets out the background to the creation of Assembly South. It describes the Assembly in terms of its composition and working methods. It then presents a detailed outline of the Assembly’s discussions and recommendations. It concludes by briefly reflecting on lessons learned and next steps.

Year One at the Southern Policy Centre

Why a southern think tank?

We were launched in 2014 by Greg Clark and Lord Adonis to provide public policy focus for central southern England: the area from Dorset to West Sussex, and the Isle of Wight up to Oxfordshire.

The region faces challenges distinct from both London and other English regions. Our public spending per head is low, our landscape is very mixed and we have a fast ageing population.

Average incomes are above the national average but living costs are high. A fast growing population is the context for contentious issues like the need to develop more housing while maintaining sensitivity for the natural environment.

Economic development, though generally good, is uneven and constrained by shortages of skills, infrastructure and finance.

Devolution

Our first major workstream is around devolution policy, working with groups like South East Strategic Leaders to shape a devolution deal that works for the south.

We brought Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, down to Winchester Business School for a series of talks. Here are five lessons we can learn from Devo-Manc.

Our key piece of work looked at the challenges and opportunities for the major devolution bids in southern England, and interviewed important employers in the region to get their thoughts. Read the report on Devo-South here.

For a different perspective see our work on Citizens’ Assembly South, a project with university partners, YouGov and the Electoral Reform Society to better understand the views of non-specialists.

Data

We launched our Open Data initiative in March this year (see the launch video here), becoming an Open Data Institute Node in May. See our ODI Hampshire mini site.

Since then we’ve applied open data principles to studying adult social care in the south, with a BBC South commissioned report showing a collapse in the number of residents receiving the service but alongside a fairly stable level of investment.

We’re also working on a Higher Education Funding Council project to understand areas with lower than expected levels of participation in university in southern England, and to then develop a toolkit that can be applied across the country.

Our latest event brought together open data specialists with policy makers in Hampshire. We showed that a bigger focus on data has already been used to drive improved decision making in public policy, but there’s still a long way to go. See our Storify for a round up of resources and discussion points.

Democracy

Our already mentioned Assembly South project showed that ordinary residents can make a contribution to the devolution debate, but what about even more specialised and arguably more thorny policy problems?

We’ve recently held an event for local residents to discuss housing policy and hear from expert speakers (report out soon, watch this space!), but before that we held deliberative polling seminars on commissioning budgets and migration politics.

Apart from that, we had the pleasure of running an Arnie Graf Tour across southern England. The tour covered local authorities, the third sector and universities, and ranged from Southampton to Oxford. The kick off event in Winchester with Isabel Hardman and Danny Kruger was about community organising; what is it and does the sort of thing that Jeremy Corbyn inspires count?

Partners

We’ve worked on events with private organisations like KnowNow Information, Open Data Aha! and PWC, and universities including Southampton, Bournemouth, Solent, Winchester and Oxford.

Our institutional partners include the Open Data Institute and a cross party Advisory Board of many talents.

Our research projects have been supported by regional organisations like BBC South and Business South, and national bodies like HEFCE.

Plus we work closely with organisations ranging from Hampshire Hub to the Electoral Reform Society.

Want to work with us? Get in touch.

Perspectives on Devo-South

1. The bids so far and mapping out our challenges

Our most recent research report for Business South looked at the challenges and opportunities in central southern England – incorporating some great maps from OS – and analysed the bids so far as well as the government’s own proposals. This assessment was compared to the views of key business leaders in the region who we interviewed about their priorities for devolution.

See more here.

2. The citizens’ voice

Over October and November we were involved in a Democracy Matters project, holding a citizens’ assembly in the Solent area of Hampshire. Local citizens and councillors deliberated on devolution options for Hampshire and Isle of Wight.

  • Citizens at this ground-breaking initiative strongly endorsed the idea that any new devolved body should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area (rather than the SE or Solent)
  • Health and social care integration should be the most important priority for the body, followed by public transport, business support and housing investment
  • Participants were evenly split on whether they support the devolution proposal currently being negotiated with government
  • Citizens want far greater public involvement in Hampshire devolution deal being proposed, and pledge to stay involved in the process, in bid to ‘democratise devolution

See here for an overview.

3. Lessons from Manchester

We were privileged to host Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, at an event supported by PwC in Winchester. Sir Richard led a discussion on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority deal, and how they got there.

We’ve outlined five key lessons from the Devo-Manc experience here.

Devo-South: a report on devolution and business

What are the challenges facing southern England, how can devolution empower local leadership to tackle them, and what do business leaders make of the opportunities offered by the government’s decentralisation agenda?

Download the full report here

BUSINESS is backing the idea of devolution in the South and wants to have a say in what it could mean for the region, according to a major new report commissioned by Business South.

Business leaders across the south have taken part in the study conducted by the Southern Policy Centre – the think tank for southern England – and the findings have been released at the same time as crucial discussions this week between Hampshire and Isle of Wight with the Government.

The report:

  • backs the case for devolution to the south
  • urges the government to concede a fuller programme of fiscal devolution
  • argues that as an area of business rate surplus, the combined authorities should be able to take on more services in order to be freed from the need to contribute to other areas

Sally Thompson, CEO of Business South, said: “This is the first time the voice of business has been heard on the subject of devolution in the south.

“We welcome the findings  of the report and look forward to seeing a shared economic vision for the region being  developed by the proposed combined authorities and LEPS with business.”

The report highlights that many businesses do not feel well informed about devolution,  and have not been consulted. Many also feel that the capacity of current local authorities needs to be improved to take advantage of new powers.

And it underlines the desire from business for simple and speedy decision-making from new combined authorities.

John Denham, Chair of the Southern Policy Centre, said: “It’s clear the south’s local authorities, LEPs and other organisations have worked hard, against a demanding timetable to put their proposals to government.  Our analysis backs their ambition. We highlight some weaknesses in their plans – these are probably inevitable given the haste but they will need to be tackled in the months and years ahead. One of the top priorities must be to consult with business to ensure the simple, speedy, decision-making that local businesses would like to see.”

The report acknowledges how quickly authorities and partners have had to move but urges potential combined authorities to consult more quickly and deeply with business, and to ensure that the new combined authorities do provide the clear, simple and accountable leadership that is required.

More on devolution in southern England

Citizens Assembly: opening up devolution in the south

Solent citizens debate plans for Hampshire devolution, in UK’s first ‘Citizens’ Assembly’

But residents want devolution process to be opened up to the public

The Southern Policy Centre helped to organise the first assembly of ordinary residents in southern England to discuss devolution in their area.

The assembly pilot was concurrent with a partner assembly in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

The results:

  • Citizens at this ground-breaking initiative strongly endorsed the idea that any new devolved body should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area, with integration of health and social care seen as the top priority
  • Participants were evenly split on whether they support the devolution proposal currently being negotiated with government
  • Citizens want far greater public involvement in Hampshire devolution deal being proposed, and pledge to stay involved in the process, in bid to ‘democratise devolution’

Over two weekends of discussion and voting, the nearly 30 participants – drawn from a broadly representative sample from Southampton, Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and other parts of the Solent area in response to an invitation by polling company YouGov – reached their conclusions through a deep process of engagement with the details of different potential devolution arrangements. The Assembly was chaired by the BBC’s Peter Henley.

‘Assembly South’ was only the second such event in the world to include both citizens and politicians as participants in the process, after the Republic of Ireland. Five local councillors participated alongside the citizens for the four days.

The participants were given unique access to national and local experts to aid them in reaching their own conclusions on how Hampshire and the Isle of Wight should be governed. The project has been closely followed by local councils across the region.

Last weekend saw local politicians and other experts giving evidence to the Assembly, including Cllr Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council. The project is being backed by Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, who attended the Assembly on Sunday and called it ‘really important and significant’.

The first weekend in October saw key local figures address the Assembly, including Councillor Stephen Godfrey, Leader of Winchester City Council, Steven Lugg, Chief Executive of the Hampshire Association of Local Councils, and Mike Smith, Director of Cities for Cofely UK and former Director of Finance for Southampton City Council.

Participants voted that if there were to be a new devolved body:

  • It should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area, instead of other options like the South East or the Solent.
  • Health and social care integration should be the most important priority for the body, followed by public transport, business support and housing investment

When asked to vote on the devolution deal currently on the table in negotiations with the government:

  • There was a dead heat, with participants evenly split on whether they would vote for or against the proposals.

The project, entitled Democracy Matters, has been organised by a group of leading universities, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society and the Southern Policy Centre, and has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is one of two pilot areas taking part in the experiment, alongside Assembly North in Sheffield. Citizens in the parallel Assembly for the South Yorkshire region gathered on the weekend of the 7th November to reach their conclusions. The 31 participants similarly called for stronger powers for South Yorkshire, as well as a Yorkshire-wide elected Assembly and more democratic engagement in the process.

In related news, the Southern Policy Centre has this week published a report on how business leaders in the south view devolution and how the bids match up to the challenges for our region.

For more information visit citizensassembly.co.uk

Arnie Graf Tour

Arnie Graf – lecture and community organising tour – October 2015

At a time when membership, participation and public confidence in traditional party politics are at a low ebb, the Southern Policy Centre has a programme of work to encourage innovative forms of public participation.

To date this has involved support for deliberative polling and a pilot constitutional convention. Arnie Graf’s tour has been organised by the SPC as part of this programme.

Arnie Graf is a prominent US advocate of community organising, the movement that gave Barak Obama early training and which has influenced, amongst others, the UK Citizens movement that first put the Living Wage on the political map in Britain.

The tour begins with ‘Reconnecting politics with people‘, an evening with Arnie Graf and Danny Kruger, moderated by Isabel Hardman (assistant editor of The Spectator). The event is being organised in collaboration with the Winchester Centre for English Identity and Politics, and the Centre for Theology and Religion in Public Life.

Date: Thursday 22 October

Time: 6.30 – 8.00 pm

Location: Stripe Auditorium, King Alfred Campus, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road SO22 4NR

Admission £5.00, including wine and refreshments beforehand.

Booking essential: book your place now.

Based in Chicago, Arnie Graf has more than 50 years’ experience of community organising. A disciple of Saul Alinksy, Graf mentored a young Barack Obama while both were involved in church-based community action. In 2011 Ed Miliband appointed him to his team of advisers, with a special brief to conduct a root-and-branch review of the Labour Party and reconnect it with voters.

Danny Kruger is Chief Executive of the criminal justice charity Only Connect which helps prisoners, former criminals and young people at risk of reoffending. A former special adviser to David Cameron, Kruger was a leading advocate of the Big Society, ‘compassionate Conservatism’ and the need for the party to embrace ‘social justice’. He is a former chief leader writer at the Daily Telegraph.

Flier with full event details

Other events on the Arnie Graf tour: 

Attlee Memorial Lecture University of Oxford Friday 23rd October
Southampton community workshop Southampton City Council Saturday 24th October
Interfaith workshop London Monday 26th October
Lecture at the

University of Southampton

 

University of Southampton

 

Monday 26th October

Citizens decide: grants and commissioning budgets in Southampton

Southampton City Council has established a People’s Panel, made up of residents who are interested in taking part in consultations and other opportunities to express their views on council services, health services and living in the city.

On Saturday 4th July 2015 the Southern Policy Centre ran a deliberative polling session with some members of the People’s Panel to pilot this different way of engaging people in exploring specific issues.

Southampton City Council, like most local authorities, faces major challenges in deciding how to spend its money wisely in a time of budget constraints. Decisions about the balance of prevention, universal services and priorities for the city’s future are all contentious. There are no easy answers.

The polling session, brought together policy experts with local citizens to discuss four key proposals that epitomise these difficult choices.

Below is a summary of the proposals discussed and the outcomes of the audience deliberation, but you can read the full report here including data on audience attitude and an explanation of the deliberative process.

Read the full report