A week ago the House of Commons debated a topic entitled Devolution (Local Communities) and needless to say, the Government had nothing to say on the subject that will change the lives of most of us. In large part this is because, like nearly all Governments before them, the current Government is prepared to change the way in which political power is managed in the UK at the margins, but certainly not to transfer power to others until holding onto it becomes so toxic, that there is no real choice. The fact that this Government is reorganising the way in which current MPs vote to give the pretence of English devolution, without any formal constitutional change or without allowing English voters to decide if this is what we want is evidence enough that there really is no wish for meaningful change. In last Mondays debate, one of our local MPs asked a question which did not elicit any real response either. Peter Kyle is MP for Hove and he asked:
“In all the debates about the northern powerhouse, I am very keen for us not to forget the southern powerhouse. What powers does the Secretary of State expect to devolve from Westminster to cities such as Brighton and Hove?”
The problem with this question is that there is far too little economic or political mass within Brighton & Hove for any form of devolution to make sense, even if the Government was willing to hand power out to our city. Indeed to make any sort of comparison between Brighton & Hove and Manchester or Liverpool is to entirely misunderstand the scale of what is being promised to residents ‘up North’. One of the terms used to describe the current discussions for Manchester is that of a City Region. Greater Manchester which now has an unelected Mayor (because of a lack of commitment to democracy in both Labour and Conservative Parties) would need to be compared to the whole of Sussex for a meaningful parallel to be found. There is of course little chance that the good work that Penny Thompson and Jason Kitcat were involved in, as recently as early 2015 will be seamlessly followed through by Warren Morgan and a current vacancy for CEO. In part this is because of the stupidity of the Labour group in Brighton & Hove who decided that before they had even got used to their new role in the Council Chamber, that they wanted to jettison all of the knowledge and experience that Penny had in her head and the trust that she had built up in her brief 3 years as CEO. As she wrote in her last blog as CEO “We have a new Labour Administration in the council. The Council wants to appoint a new CEO” There might have been all sorts of qualities and skills that the Labour Council wished to introduce into this role that Penny lacked. However as she was due to retire within the next couple of years, there was a great opportunity for them to begin a measured and planned transition of administrative decision making. Instead they have created a crisis within the offices of the Council that is entirely unnecessary. This will have set back all sorts of activities intended to benefit local residents. I agree with the thrust of Peter Kyles question, now is the time for all of the Councils in Sussex to consider how they will respond to the City Region agenda. However this is not something that Brighton & Hove is capable of leading without a coherent management team in place. Its as credible as a Greater Manchester being discussed whilst Manchester City Council sets itself on a journey of self imposed destruction.