The structure of local government is difficult to get excited about, but the unravelling of the county’s devolution bid, with Cotswold District Council jilting Gloucestershire at the alter and eloping with West Oxfordshire, is noteworthy.
In the last few months the Leaders and Chief Executives of the Gloucestershire County, District, Borough and City Councils, along with the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Clinical Commissioning Group, had been negotiating a devolution deal with central government entitled “We are Gloucestershire” which would, among other things, result in a combined authority for Gloucestershire.
If this is the first you’ve heard of the move, then you’re not alone: there has been a startling lack of public consultation (at least so far) over such a wide-ranging change.
Then at the end of February came the news that the Tory-led Cotswold District Council seems to have been negotiating behind the backs of the other Gloucestershire Councils (and the people of Gloucestershire) to join West Oxfordshire’s unitary authority.
Sarah Lunnon, Green County Councillor for Stroud Central, said:
“What was so bad about the Gloucestershire Devolution package? – all I’ve been allowed to see has promised sunshine and roses all around, but something has spooked the Cotswold Cavalry into action.”
“Maybe it’s the lack of a governance structure, or that no-one seems to be in charge of the new organisation, or the creeping secrecy of information withheld due to commercial confidentiality, or the lack of respect for the democratic process. It is becoming apparent that there is no overall plan for Local Government, apart from give it more to do, tell it how to do it and then remove its funding. We are being presented with ‘Desperation Devolution’, as those delivering our service frantically seek a way to provide their statutory duties, our public services, as central government hacks and slashes funding streams.”