There have been few formal meetings during August with many councillors on holiday but the administration has been at work on a proposal for devolution of powers from Westminster to Suffolk.
Suffolk is one of four two-tier areas invited by the government to bid to run functions currently delivered by the government. In return, Suffolk would need to deliver agreed and improved outcomes without increasing costs.
The Suffolk Public Sector Leaders’ group, health, police and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership have constructed the bid. They believe that by having more control over what goes on in the county, we can deliver better outcomes for all of Suffolk’s communities.
Local knowledge and expertise of councillors will lead to more effective decision-making on issues that affect Suffolk’s communities.
Summarising a 14 page document is difficult but I believe the essentials are:
The bid proposes “a new Public Sector Board, a simple development and continuance of the current Suffolk Public Sector Leaders Group”. This would organise the efforts of the current Local Enterprise Boards, County and District councils, Health, Police and perhaps the local employment and pensions service.
The leaders want:
- More autonomy and certainty on funds such as New Homes Bonus;
- Devolution of funding and decision making for investment in a modern transport system with a secure future;
- Devolved multi-year settlements for health, care and safety;
- The devolution of decision making over European Structural Funds;
- Further Enterprise Zones focussed on agri-tech, food and drink and ICT and enhancement of the Growth Hub;
- Devolved responsibility for the Apprenticeship Grant and successor schemes
- Freedom to establish a new local employment service which can deliver Universal Credit;
- First rights on government estates in Suffolk.
- 70,000 new homes by 2031;
- 5,000 new apprenticeships by 2020 and a further 2,500 in Suffolk by 2025
- A radically different approach to local public service finances where greater local autonomy creates an environment that supports investment, is more sustainable and less reliant on central grants;
- To increase Suffolk’s total annual Gross Value Add by a third to over £18 billion by 2025;
- To provide more effective and joined up planning so we can use assets to invest in growth and transformation
- They would design a new local employment service that helps people to progress into work and reduces dependency on benefits
- To invest in infrastructure to stimulate growth such as delivering on the commitment to 100% coverage of superfast broadband by 2020
Councils will agree these proposals across the county and, if all goes well, they will have been submitted to government on 24th September.
If government accepts the bid, it will have an important impact on us all. I believe it looks rather light on a believable democratically controlled structure capable of driving the improvements promised. It also appears to confuse wishes, wants and intentions but it will develop and I hope succeed.
Scrutiny of the follow-up of the Ofsted Inspection of the Council’s School Improvement Service produced a number of recommendations. Two important ones are:
- That officers should provide the Committee with regular updates of the Action Plan, with information in the ‘Evidence of Impact’ column, showing the current status of, and any changes to, each of the actions in the plan.
- That officers provide the Committee with information on the effectiveness to date of Raising the Bar, with details of the actual and planned expenditure, what parts of the initiative have been successful, or unsuccessful, and including details of utilisation of the Challenge Fund.
Scrutiny Forward Plan
The next round of scrutiny of the Keir contract has been organised for October and we will be looking at the Energy from Waste programme at the same meeting.
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