Who will take control if Gloucestershire is successful in its tender for local independence? In my opinion that, is devolution’s elephant in the room.
I am one of 10 partners to have signed-up to the county’s bid for devolution, which if successful would give Gloucestershire greater control of its public services.
The Government has indicated the bid – outlined in a statement of intent entitled ‘We are Gloucestershire’ – is worth exploring. But it fails to address the key question of who would run the county if devolution is achieved.
Today I attended a meeting of regional business leaders in Cheltenham where I pledged my full support for the idea of devolution for Gloucestershire, providing consideration is given to who will run the show if we achieve our goal.
Managing Gloucestershire will be a very big job and I don’t believe it can be done by committee – and I don’t think the Government wants that. From what I hear they want one person who will be accountable, like the mayor is in London.
In many ways, Police and crime commissioners are the template because the Government devolved powers from the old police authorities to one elected figure. Unlike members of parliament and local councillors, I am the only elected representative covering the whole of the county. I am responsible for a workforce of 1800 officers and staff and a budget of £105 million.
I’m not saying we definitely should have a mayor and I am certainly not touting for the job myself.
In fact, if Gloucestershire did have a mayor it would make me redundant because the new post would include the responsibilities of the police and crime commissioner – but I do think we should be asking the question.
The case for devolution for Gloucestershire has been developed by Gloucestershire County Council, the six district councils, GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
A government representative has been appointed to work with the partners to develop the bid and ministers are expected to give a decision by the end of the year. Gloucestershire is believed to be the only bid in the country that includes provision for community safety.
Devolution would give the county responsibility for public services and more say over social care and health spending, local transport networks, business rates, education and infrastructure. It would be the biggest change in how the county is run in more than 40 years and yet the notion has not caught-on with the public.
We need to broaden the debate, we need to make people interested.
I want Gloucestershire to be successful but it will need a strong leader. Devolution doesn’t mean an extra layer of bureaucracy and that means some people being prepared to give things up, yet everyone is very quiet on how that will be decided.