In all walks of life the adage that one can choose one’s friends has resonance with our wider behaviour. The people who congregate for cigarettes or who socialise together outside of work do so in part because they enjoy one another’s company, or in some cases are seeking advantage from the process. When this happens on a corporate scale some educational establishments, charities, businesses or local government agencies find working with others who they get on with far easier than knuckling down and engaging with neighbouring organisations. However shareholders, Trustees or voters who may not share these relationships, have every good reason to expect the decisions that impact the educational chances, profitability or growth of the organisation will not be unduly influenced by such preferences. It is vital that our local government leaders put to one side their own wishes, or personal political inclinations in order to do the best for their electors and local residents.
The decision by the Government to devolve power to coherent local areas has been trumpeted by Northern areas as a chance to change the way in which decisions are made and how resources are allocated as central Government is scaled back. Greater Manchester was the first of these areas and Sheffield is close behind. At one point this approach was described as the establishment of a City Region. I have previously written with my concerns that the proposal which involves Brighton & Hove has been developed by our political leaders along with the Universities and some Business leaders in isolation from the rest of our community including the many charities that help to deliver services in our communities. The Greater Brighton City Deal is also limited in geographical scope when compared to Manchester or Sheffield which is concerning as the success of any devolution will depend on the economy of scale available in the new civic area. Greater Brighton is made up of five Councils, Brighton & Hove, Adur and Worthing, Mid Sussex and Lewes District. In reality this is a City with very little region around it. It now transpires that a second bid to this Government process has been submitted which covers the whole of Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex, but excludes Brighton & Hove. This bid known as the 3 Southern Counties (3SC) is much bolder in terms of scope and ironically, if Brighton & Hove was included would have a population of the same size as the Greater Manchester. The exclusion of our city from this bid is as bizarre as the modest ambitions of the Greater Brighton area. If one proposal is a City with no region, the other is a region without a relavant City. That is not to ignore that Guilford and Chichester are Cities by name, but in terms of their influence they remain as County Towns, not Cities in the sense in which City Regions were first developed. Our elected Councillors and those of our neighbouring areas need to be brought together and obliged to cooperate on this. Both bids are inadequate, yet a bid that combined these approaches with the inclusion of local people would be much more successful and might actually achieve the objectives of true devolution.