Monday, 5 January 2015

Beeston muffins and why the proposed N2CA is a nonsense

Christmas and the New Year take over one's life in unexpected and pleasing ways. A friend from my Young Socialist days in Wembley over fifty years ago joined us after buying an uninhabitable house in Gainsborough at auction and a new neighbour invited us to a party on Christmas Eve.

Then there is cooking with a gas oven for the first time in forty years and managing great with the chicken and gammon, but the Christmas bun-loaf took two attempts. The second tasted great but was not pretty to look at, so it was sliced and frozen in the hope that no one noticed its imperfections.

My first Beeston muffins on the other hand, made a couple of days ago, were a success, made with the help of a frying pan.

Moving house became a pre-occupation for thirteen months and now moving into a new home brings a whole set of other things to do, which we will be lucky to finish by the end of 2015. Being ill for over a fortnight delayed things and now Susan is about to embark on laying out The Nottinghamshire Historian, which will take the next couple of weeks. As we have only one computer which will link to the wi-fi and Internet, this blog will have to be posted in bits.

Having done my old Parkviews blog for seven years I know how they acquire a life of their own and so it is already with Beeston week. An email last night from a younger friend, who has also moved to Beeston, opined that 'full-time work does take up a ridiculous amount of time'. As my grandfather used to say 'If work was such a good thing the rich would keep it all for themselves'. There are always chores and other tasks to provide excuses for not doing what it is you really want to do.

As for my reference to 'nonsense' in the title of this post, I am referring to the proposed  'Nottinghamshire Combined Authority' and the published 'Summary of Governance Review and proposals for a combined authority, which I downloaded from the Broxtowe Borough Council Homepage. You have until 6 February to post comments on what is being described as a 'consultation'.

I have been an advocate of a Greater Nottingham City Council since my days as a Nottinghamshire county councillor (1981–1985) and, until a few years ago, urban parish councils. Now I would argue for 'mini-mayors' instead, but this is an argument for another day. No one with an ounce of civic, community or political sense can support the existence of local authorities like Broxtowe and Gedling. They are artificial constructs which make no sense geographically. Again an argument for another day.

The proposed  Nottinghamshire Combined Authority (CA) is a bit like Broxtowe and Gedling — it is a nonsense and reading the five page summary shows why.
Reference in the para 1.2 refers to Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, West Yorkshire and the North East and goes on to say in para 1.4 that 'Although a CA would effectively be a new body (it will) be funded through existing budgets — at no additional cost to the public purse'. Er, excuse me, am I missing something here. The money has to come from somewhere, so logic says that existing budgets elsewhere will have to be reduced in size. One assumes Broxtowe and the other councils have identified where these savings will be made, so why not tell us as part of the consultation?

A later para, 5.3, says 'the CA need support from a small executive function'. How small is 'small'? I suspect that the member councils will also appoint their own CA liaison teams and where will their funding come from? Perhaps the 'small executive function' is coded Summary speak telling us the CA will be run by a directly elected mayor. The price Greater Manchester has paid for its money-rich CA is a mayor and logic says that the same will apply to proposed CA, but no mention of this appears in the Summary published by Nottinghamshire's local authorities.

It seems that the proposed CA will be known as the 'N2CA' (N2 standing for 'Nottingham and Nottinghamshire'). There is a body called 'D2N2' already in existence. It is the name of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) already covering Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and Erewash Council in Derbyshire is already a member of a number of Greater Nottingham bodies, so the links between the counties are well established and I have long argued for a public transport authority covering the Derby–Nottingham conurbation (which could also be described as 'Trentbartonland' (a name invented by a local well known bus company).

Para 4.2 of the summary refers to the 'shared strength in manufacturing industries but with clear differences in the focus and strengths of manufacturing industries'. It is a nonsense sentence and reveals just how muddle-headed the political thinking behind N2CA is. Para 4.3 is no better and is too long for me to type in here. Just read it for yourselves. By no stretch of the imagination is N2 a 'central location'. Nottingham Station is of little importance when compared to Derby Station'.

The D2N2 LEP will continue to exist and in bold print says the new N2CA will 'Maintain the current Joint Committee Arrangements'. Yet another argument which supports a CA covering the two counties, especially the Derby-Nottingham conurbation.

Para 5.4 says that all the existing local authorities in Nottinghamshire will continue to exist and their 'powers will be exercised by the CA on a concurrent basis ie. no powers have been 'ceded' to the CA from its members' (the City Council, County Council and district councils).

The paragraph goes onto list 'the powers' and the next para, 5.6, says there will be 'operating protocols agreed locally by the CA and the nine constituent councils'. In other words, local council leaders want to get their hands on extra Government money whilst telling themselves and us (the electorate) that nothing has really changed and there will be no extra costs involved.

But the final sentence of the final para (5.7) of the Summary document is the killer and tells why the proposed N2CA is a nonsense as presently proposed. It reads:

'The Nottingham and Nottinghamshire CA will also act as the Accountable Body for N2 funds and investments. It is recognised that this will need to be carefully co-ordinated with Derby City and Derbyshire to ensure consistency and efficiency across the D2N2 LEP area (which will continue to exist) and this will be done through joint arrangements to enable agility in decision making across the LEP area that is not a characteristic of the present arrangements'.

Really? How will this work when all the powers the new N2CA will possess are 'concurrent' with those already in the control of the constituent local authority members? 

As I say a 'nonsense' document about a nonsense proposal which reveals just how parochial the council leaders involved in this proposal are. There may be some council leaders willing to cede power and willing to support the creation of a 'super' local authority. What makes Greater Manchester different to Nottinghamshire is the fact that the former is a urban conurbation, whilst only part of our county is. Labour leaders in the urban areas do not want to risk their areas being run by rural and suburban Tories.

Kay Cutts, the former Conservative Leader of Notts Council was on regional BBC-TV today saying that she thought Nottinghamshire should have three councils at most. To achieve this there will need to be some kind of local government re-organisation in the county and it is a long overdue discussion. The last re-organisation was in 1974 and it was failure by any measure (I will come back in a future blog to why I support a single council for the Nottingham conurbation).

To conclude I am of the view that in the rush to create the proposed N2CA local politicians are putting the cart before the horse. I say let's look at local authority boundaries in the East Midlands first, then go for enhanced powers. Out of this should come fewer councils and, I hope, a willingness to recognise that we need a joint Derby-Nottingham conurbation authority of some kind — which we could call 'Trentbartonland'!

I am a great believer in 'following the buses' — they go where people who use buses want to go and, as a local historian of sorts, I have long been fascinated by how the growth of cities has happened in conjunction with their hinterland of neighbouring towns and villages and how buses have played an important role in the growth of our present-day conurbations. Trentbartonland is a good example of this.

Personally, I think a 'twin city' CA centred on the Derby and Nottingham makes much more sense and can build on the existing local enterprise partnership and chamber of commerce. Back in the 1960s East Midlands councils jointly created East Midlands Airport and in the 1980s I chaired the Airport. A long time ago, but the dynamics of power have not changed — hence to reluctance of local political and civic leaders to put the wellbeing of our sub-region before narrow, parochial, political interests.

I really support the idea of a combined authority, but not this nonsense N2CA one!

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