Posted by: nigelashtonuk | November 11, 2014

George Ferguson story

From what George has said, it seems he is unaware of what we are already doing. We have combined authorities in the sense that we are already working together and combining many services, including those mentioned by George , such as legal services and human resources, and are working on many more areas, where it makes sense. The rest of us have already “put aside political sensitivities” given that the three authorities of South Glos, Bath & NE Somerset and North Somerset, all have different politically balanced administrations and yet work together well, for the good of our residents. All four authorities, including Bristol, have worked together and have seen the benefit of united bids to central government, without a need to lose their individuality. We have secured major investment in developing a comprehensive network of improved bus and rail services (metrobus and metrowest) as well as securing the largest allocation per head of any LEP in round one of the local growth fund, in part because of our track record of delivery. By working in partnership we achieved a deal with government that gave us an enterprise zone and 4 enterprise areas
Constantly quoting the metropolitan area of Manchester misses the point, we are not Manchester and what works for them should not be mandatory for everywhere else. We talk of localism and devolution and then try to impose another layer of government further away from our communities, without even asking our residents. Of course we are always keen to talk to Government about opportunities to secure the devolution of funding and powers, where it can bring clear benefits to local people but no one has demonstrated any real benefit and we have been told that there would be no new money.

Some people seem to confuse the need for government to give local authorities the power to get on with their existing responsibilities, with the need to create another authority. Apparently we would also have a Metro Mayor. George says he supports devolved powers but then seeks to centralise it.

Cllr Nigel C Ashton
Leader of North Somerset Council
A Unitary Authority
Twitter @NigelCAshton
Website nigelashton.co.uk

From: Heather Pickstock [mailto:heather.pickstock]
Sent: Tuesday, November 11, 2014 10:52 AM
To: Nigel Ashton (Councillor)
Subject: FW: George Ferguson story

Hi

Need a comment from you on this

Thanks

Heather

BRISTOL mayor George Ferguson has challenged the councils in the Bristol area to put aside “political sensitivities” and combine and share services in order to attract Government funding to the region.

Speaking to Bristol Post before his annual state-of-the-nation address at Bristol University last night, Mr Ferguson stressed that this was the right time to create a “combined authority”. This would retain the four existing authorities but see them share services like legal services, human resources, waste management and housing.

It would also see the creation of a strategic planning and integrated transport authority.

“This change would give us critical mass and the reward is huge,” he told the Bristol Post, “There is funding for transport and housing that is being pledged to city areas that take up this challenge. For example, the Government is putting £300m in to affordable housing in Manchester.”

Referring to the historical reluctance between the councils to pool resources with Bristol, Mr Ferguson added: “The only reason for not accepting this change is political sensitivity. The Government has created a window. This is the moment. This is the time to move.”

He added: “This is not a Bristol takeover and the new departments would not necessarily be run from Bristol. Other combined authorities have shared out the responsibilities for the different roles.”

Mr Ferguson was also critical of the region’s current “West of England” title: “I don’t want to dwell too much on names. But for location and clarity, I prefer the title of Bristol City Region. Cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds are creating Northern powerhouses. Bristol needs to be the south west equivalent.”

Last week, the Government announced that Greater Manchester would be getting more powers as well as an elected mayor.

And a few days ago, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told the Post that groups of councils up and down the country were clamouring to become “combined authorities” so they too could enjoy a greater say over their own affairs.

But Mr Pickles warned that councils would only be pushing at an open door if there was agreement between them.

In the Bristol area, the four existing councils co-operate under a body called the West of England Partnership but they continue to run independently of each other.

Mr Ferguson said: “Who can have missed the issue of devolution in the news recently?

“Many of you know I have been pretty vocal in my frustration with the restriction placed on local authorities by this country’s overbearingly centralised system of governance.

“In September, I moderated the first planning session for a Global Parliament of Mayors in Amsterdam.

“This was supported by some of the greatest city leaders.

“The central idea is simple: real devolution and informed policy-making best lie with engaged city leaders.

“And following the Scottish referendum, the Government is showing some serious commitment.

“Great Manchester got its act together across ten authorities and has been promised a metro mayor and more powers – a tribute to the success of city mayoral governance of course, and to the real benefits of working together.

“Greater Birmingham and others have been quick to follow and I have been in conversation with Government ministers over the weekend.

“In the Government’s Autumn Statement we are expecting further announcements on combined authorities. It would be a major missed opportunity if any of England’s major city regions were not now preparing solid partnerships to claim devolved powers.

“The scale of the opportunity before us is huge.”

Mr Ferguson said devolution would mean we would have much more control over local decisions and make real progress without having to jump through “hundreds of Whitehall hoops”.

He said transport improvements, skills for workers, homes and strategic planning would all be at our fingertips.

Mr Ferguson said: “I’m talking tonight about the real interests of local people. Not of politicians. Not of parties, but of people.

“If devolution to Combined Authorities – that is the sharing of services – is in the interest of the people in this region – and it is – then we must go there.

“Let me be absolutely clear. We cannot afford to miss out.

“We must, must, make a proper local commitment that crosses party lines and artificial boundaries.

“We owe it to the people living in this – the finest city region in the UK.

“To my counterparts across the West of England: I know you have people’s best interests at heart, we must seize this chance – before the window of opportunity closes.

“Let’s embrace it – let’s create a Great Western economic powerhouse.

“Let’s exploit these precious few months of pre-election democracy – to make local lives better.

“Let’s work in concert to free us to prosper – together – you know it makes sense.”

The Bristol Post is currently running a campaign for a Greater Bristol to discuss how the region should punch its weight in the future and not miss out on power and money being devolved from Whitehall.

Reacting to Mr Ferguson’s speech, Marti Burgess, a lawyer and owner of Lakota nightclub, said: “I am pleased to hear the mayor’s call to action on a combined authority.

“If we are to have strategic thinking, this has to be through a combined authority. If you look at the Greater Manchester area, you will see all the problems they have had to overcome.

“But through the new powers they will now have control over housing, planning, transport and health and social issues.

“Although we will need a rebrand. The West of England Partnership doesn’t quite cut it.”

She added: “I am worried that social inclusion is still not high up enough on the agenda. We talk a lot about jobs and growth but it all buys into the idea that trickle-down economics works and I am not sure that it does.”

John Harris, who lives in Frome and is a political journalist for the Guardian, backed George’s ideas on devolution.

He said: “The conversation we are starting to have about devolution is central to a new era in British politics.

“We are having a conversation about finally putting power closer to the people themselves.

“It is not just political, it is deeply cultural as well. I think it is a common response to globalisation. If globalisation carries on, everywhere will start to look like Cabot Circus.

“In response to that, people seem to be developing a much keener sense of place. People’s belief that where they live represents something unique is getting more and more prevalent.”

PANEL

What is a combined authority?

It is a group of councils which voluntarily agree to pool their responsibilities to improve transport, economic development and regeneration.

A combined authority is one step on from what we have in the Bristol area at the moment – co-operation between the four existing councils but they work independently of each other.

If they came together into a combined authority, they would run some departments – such as transport and strategic planning – as one. In turn, the Government would delegate more powers and resources so they could take more control over decision-making.

In Sheffield, for example, the city council is one of four metropolitan boroughs which make up the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority. The four boroughs look after their own affairs but they jointly run the police and fire services and public transport.

Unlike a partnership between councils, a combined authority is a legally recognised body which could assume the role of an integrated transport authority and economic prosperity board.

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