Chancellor, George Osborne has a new idea. He wants to devolve power to East Anglia….or more specifically to a combined authority comprising Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. It’s called the “Eastern Powerhouse”; but like a lot of things this Government thinks up, it is not quite so good as it sounds.
Council leaders were strong armed into signing up to “the deal” and then sworn to secrecy until the Budget. So a project to spread power, launched in total secrecy? You might be starting to get the idea. Actually not everyone was willing to sign up to it. Cambridge City Council refused, as did Cambridgeshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
And since then the project seems to be falling apart at the seams. Cambridgeshire Council Council passed a resolution (by 64 votes to nil) denouncing the “deal” in its current form. Liberal Democrat councillors have led the opposition in Peterborough. We have called for a special council meeting to discuss the issue: to let all councillors express their views. Two weeks later, as I write this, we are still waiting for a decision …on whether we can have a meeting!
So what’s all the fuss about. Well for a start, the money Government is offering is peanuts. £30 million a year sounds impressive until you remember it’s spread over the whole of East Anglia. Over time “the deal” will take key planning powers away from Peterborough: there will new “mayoral development corporations” to force through what are called “strategic projects”.
The Cambs LEP have said that the economic geography of the new Combined Authority is wrong. Peterborough has strong economic links with Cambridgeshire and parts of other neighbouring counties but very poor links with Norfolk and Suffolk.
There is also a massive democratic deficit at the heart of the project. All powers in the Combined Authority will be in the hands of a Mayor. To overturn his/her decisions will need a two thirds majority of a cabinet in which Peterborough will have one vote out of 26. It’s pretty certain in the area proposed that the Mayor will be a Tory; so it’s not just jobs for the boys but one very well paid and powerful job for one Tory boy!
Liberal Democrats support devolution. UK is the most over centralised country in Europe. But powers should be passed to properly elected and accountable bodies, not centralised in the hands of one person.
At the city council elections on 5 May, Liberal Democrats will be fielding a record number of candidates across Peterborough. Bringing power closer to the people, protecting our environment and improving public transport are just some of the policies we advocate.
The Tories have been running our council for far too long and Labour has provided only weak opposition. You may well think It’s time for a change. It’s time for the Liberal Democrats.