Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Exeter unitary repercussions

Some predictable repercussions from the decision to grant Exeter unitary status...
  • There has been a predictable bitter battle of the press releases between Devon County Council ("Exeter Unitary plan branded as 'costly madness'") and Exeter City Council ("Devon County Council Peddling Lies"). Devon County Council claims council tax will rise by £200 in Exeter; Exeter City Council says this is a blatant lie.
  • As expected, Devon County Council has launched a judicial review of the decision, claiming a "cast-iron case of malpractice". The exchange of letters between Peter Housden (the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Communities and Local Government) and John Denham (the Secretary of State) is being cited as evidence.
  • It is my guess that Peter Housden's objections to the basis on which the Exeter & Norwich unitary decisions were being taken were the reason that the decisions were not publicly announced by Gordon Brown when the Cabinet met in Exeter earlier in the month. The timings indicated by the letters lend support to this.
  • The leaking of these letters to Iain Dale (see also his post here) is a surprising and serious matter. While it's great for the public that they are in the public domain, the leak was clearly a breach of regulations if not trust. The letters were clearly leaked in order to further someone's agenda, and it is odd there hasn't so far been an official statement condemning the leak and promising an internal inquiry.
  • Exeter City Council and Ben Bradshaw attacked the legal action as a waste of taxpayers money.
  • Shadow local government minister Bob Neill has said "This unitary restructuring is expensive, divisive and fundamentally undemocratic. It will do nothing to improve local services, but merely distract councils as they rearrange the deckchairs of local government. The Government's reckless and mad dash plans contradict the Boundary Commission advice. This is yet another example of Labour fiddling with the constitution just to create dividing lines. Gordon Brown is pursuing the politics of division, setting city verses county, for petty partisan advantage."
  • Meanwhile, the House of Lords is investigating the unitary decision. This is interesting given the behind-the-scenes lobbying of the House of Lords that Devon County Council has been undertaking since the decision. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the unitary decision, for an unelected bunch of peers to have the whip hand over a question of local democracy would be bizarre.
  • Devon County Council has told its employees not to staff talk with Exeter City Council colleagues about transition arrangements without approval. Meanwhile a motion of non-cooperation over the transition will be voted on tomorrow (18 February) by Devon County Council. Lack of cooperation between councils would indeed lead to greater costs, so perhaps Devon County Council is hoping to make its prophecy come true?
  • The statutory instrument that will be voted on by the House Commons (subject to legal challenge and the timing of the general election) has been published in draft. Item 3.1 reads "On 1st April 2011 Exeter shall cease to form part of the county of Devon". The 2010 Exeter City Council elections have been cancelled, and the terms of office for current councillors will continue until local government election day . An "Implementation Executive" is proposed to manage the transition, with 11 representatives of Exeter City Council and 4 representatives of Devon County Council. Each of the four major parties in Exeter (Conservatives, Labour, LibDem and Liberal) are to be represented on this Executive.
  • UDPATE 18 Feb: Here's the news that the legal bid against the unitary decision is a joint one with Norfolk County Council.