Why are people so shy about the real devolution issues?

Should power move away from Suffolk's Endeavour House headquarters?

Should power move away from Suffolk's Endeavour House headquarters? - Credit: Archant

My broadside against the region’s devolution proposals provoked a significant number of responses sent to me in its wake from many different quarters.

Almost all of them were largely or totally in support of my point of view – but sadly almost all of them were “private” and I cannot break confidences to say what individuals told me.

However a number of themes did emerge.

Firstly, there is a concern among public sector officials – especially those dealing with the health sector – that political leaders and their senior staff are so preoccupied with the devolution debate that they risk taking their eye off the real crisis heading our way this winter . . . problems with health and social care provision.

There are real fears that if we get another harsh winter, another 2009 or 2010, then the system will really struggle to cope – and that could produce a domino effect right through the health and social care sector.

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We’ve been lucky over recent years. The winters have been exceptionally mild. But this year weather experts have suggested we could be in for something a whole lot harsher. If local politicians are so busy naval-gazing over devolution, will they be able to make the tough decisions needed on care?

I’ve also heard from business leaders who say there’s enough confusion already about who is responsible for economic development in areas like Ipswich.

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Does the borough cease to be interested in new businesses if they’re the other side of Felixstowe Road? Are individual councillors more interested in promoting their own district than the good of the county or the region as a whole?

Certainly there are those in the business community who feel that way – and are far from convinced that devolution with the same group of councillors will make any difference whatsoever.

One of the arguments I have heard from politicians is that once devolution has started there is a real belief that the ball will have started rolling which will eventually lead to a version of the wholesale reformation of local government over the next few years.

I’d like to think they’re right. My concern is that once you’ve been through the hiatus of devolution, why put yourself through another battle with stroppy councillors?

Isn’t it better to have one almighty battle at the start of a parliament and not put it off until 2018 by which time the next election will be only 18 months away?

I repeat my call to central government from last week. A patched-up job appealing to the lowest common denominator among councillors is not enough. If the councils aren’t prepared to reform, then they’re not ready to have new powers.

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