Wednesday, 9 December 2015

More Questions that Answers: Devolution is the moment's hot topic.

The airing of the issues proved a major success at a recent RTPI East Midlands conference that I helped organize on Devolution in Leicester.

Pleasingly we managed to attract some big hitters: from this year’s national President of the RTPI to Alberto Costa M.P. for South Leicestershire.

The morning was split into two sessions to consider two separate aspects of devolution: from Central Government to sub regions; and, district planning to neighbourhood planning.

In both cases the general consensus was that it could or should be a good thing.

Ian Morgan a D2N2 Board Member, but also from a medium size group of bus companies very forcibly put over the positive benefits from his own experience. Decisions should always be devolved down to the lowest level of subsidiarity. That is the principle in his company.

While this was very well received by the audience, I just have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I would not always agree. The public also needs consistency to be confident of, for example, service quality or the amount of service. You trust and use say Costa Cafés throughout the land, because you know what to expect. The format is micromanaged, so people know what they are getting and feel comfortable, as they are risk adverse in choosing say a café visit.

The same might apply in, for example, neighbourhood planning. Formats, names processes can perhaps best follow standard guidelines.  This gives the public confidence that a rogue plan is not being produced that unfairly benefits one group or individual over another.

The same might be said of a major firm investing in a region wanting to be confident that what it says on the tin in say the West Midlands is the same as in Scotland?

I also found an observation by Alberto Costa MP, with his strong Scottish accent, very illuminating. People see a lot of the drive for regional / sub regional devolution as a result of Scotland’s success in achieving much greater autonomy. What is good for the Scots is good for the rest of UK Plc. However, in some ways at least one can argue that Scotland is the most centralized country in the UK. For example, there is one police force: Police Scotland. And that centralization has led to much less local influence on operational matters by the public and overall effectiveness of the constabulary in his opinion.

I can guess that the cynical among us may feel that this devolution is just a power grab by ambitious and power hungry politicians?

But the overall message is that we are entering a new era. It has a long way to go. It is going to happen anyway, so lets take out time and try and get it right.