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Letter: Why we’re concerned about a possible Solent Devolution Deal

Conservative Isle of Wight councillor, Stuart Hutchinson, sets out why he (and colleagues) are concerned about the possible devolution deal with Southampton and Portsmouth.

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We always welcome a Letter to the Editor to share with our readers – unsurprisingly they don’t always reflect the views of this publication. If you have something you’d like to share, get in touch and of course, your considered comments are welcome below. This from Cllr Stuart Hutchinson, Deputy Leader of Conservative Group, Chairman of Audit Committee. Ed


Let me say straightaway that what follows is a personal view, though I know that a great majority of colleagues in my own Conservative group, the Independent Members Group and UKIP share similar concerns. So do some of the Members of the ruling group.

There’s lots of information available on this deal – the Solent Mayoral Combined Authority, (MCA) to give its cumbersome title. But if you take the trouble to read the consultation document, you’ll find that it’s more like an advertisement than a consultation. It fails to present both sides of the argument equally.

Less than 1% of residents responded and yet despite the biased hype, almost a third were not convinced.

You may wonder why so many councillors – a majority of those present at the Council Meeting – didn’t want to continue talks about how this new Authority would be managed and voted against it.

Why we don’t like the deal
There’s not much public information about why we don’t like the deal. I hope that this letter will help to put that right.

Devolution, in its simplest terms, means that government will pass on to a new MCA the responsibility for doing some of the things it’s done itself in the past.

Councils have the freedom to decide which other councils they want to associate with and on what terms. Except it is made very clear there must be a Directly Elected Mayor, who will lead the new body. The present talks are about how that body will be governed. Not about what it would do, or about how it would get done or who would do it. That has to be thrashed out – if it is decided to go ahead.

Concerns around having a Mayor
In the early days of discussion, the devolution deal was about how we might associate with Hampshire and its District Councils. That discussion stopped because it became clear that Hampshire was concerned about having to have a single Mayor.

A second option then became available which was Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight. Earlier this year, our Council decided to discuss that option. A Hampshire option may come back for discussion, but there will be similar concerns.

Increasing worries
It’s becoming clearer what a Solent deal might mean and we have increasing worries about it. That’s why so many Councillors expressed that concern in the most tangible way they could, which was to vote not to continue with the process.

We could end up spending more time and money pursuing a course which becomes a dead end if a majority of Councillors refuse to back it.

That’s happened recently with a failed deal in Lincolnshire and with the North East Devolution deal, where four out of seven councils pulled out after initial talks.

What’s the deal?
It’s to create a new authority with new responsibilities by combining two rival cities 14 miles apart, with a mainly rural offshore Island.

That sounds like it might not work, so let’s look at what’s on offer.

£900m an indication not promise
It is that, if we choose to accept new responsibilities, government will give the MCA a grant of £30m a year for 30 years, or £900m in total.

That amount is not a promise, it’s an indication, but it’s likely. If that money wasn’t available we wouldn’t even think of taking this on. Will it be inflation proofed? We don’t know. If not it’s a lot less in real terms.

What is government spending on these services at the moment? We don’t know.

How much of it would the Island get? Based on population, perhaps £8m at most. Coincidentally that’s about the ongoing cut from our revenue budget next year.

Once 30 years is up?
At the end of the 30 years, if the pattern follows what previous governments have done, the money will cease and the MCA will pick up the bill. That is to say the three constituent Councils to will fund it. That’s us.

Unlike our PFI contract, this is not free money. It is to run new and complex services, not to help us with the underfunding we are presently struggling with.

Putting it in context
£0.9 billion sounds a lot of money and it is, but let’s put the amount into context.

Over the same 30 years the three Councils will be spending over £15bn and with inflation that will increase substantially. So the new money isn’t the huge pot of gold it’s being sold as.

What we do know is that every time government (of whatever political stripe) has given councils additional responsibilities, they have never given quite enough to cover the cost and the amount has withered over the years.

On those grounds alone we would be right not to take this further, though there are many other reasons why this deal is not right for this Island. I could outline them all here, but that would take more space than we have.

Little in common
Let me ask one final question, though. Do we really want to share a Mayor with Southampton and Portsmouth, and if that happens do we think the Island’s interests will be high on the agenda of those major industrial cities with which we have very little in common?

It was disappointing to see that, despite the Council’s decision, and not all of the Executive agreeing, the remainder decided at their meeting on Monday to continue regardless.

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Tuesday, 25th October, 2016 12:07pm

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Filed under: Island-wide, Isle of Wight Council, Letter to the Editor

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27 Comments

  1. Geoff Hughes


    25.Oct.2016 12:34pm

    There are 15/16 councils in the three areas .That means £2million to the Isle of Wight. A New Mayor, an extra Politician for the Isle of Wight, Another council??All extra expence If the other councils take up their option
    £2 million, In the 51 page document also mentions, it may affect your council rates, down?? I don’t think so. Is it going to be another road fiasco ,couple of years down the road , oops its costing more than we thought . Start again. How are you going to pay it back . The government want you to sort out a problem . If we give you the money ,we have reduced central governments problem ,only costing £2 million. And the £900 million , Will it cover inflation, and its not guarrenteed .

    Reply
  2. “…though there are many other reasons why this deal is not right for this Island. I could outline them all here, but that would take more space than we have.”

    How much space do we have? I’m sure OTW would publish your whole letter, this isn’t IWCP after all!

    Please explain your reasons, Stuart. Because your letter has told us exactly nothing.

    Reply
  3. Geoff Lumley


    25.Oct.2016 1:08pm

    Yes, I thought that was a cop out from Cllr Hutchinson. Someone as erudite as he is should give us all the other reasons

    Reply
  4. retired hack


    25.Oct.2016 1:44pm

    Some credit due to Cllr Hutchnson for at least acknowledging what the current debate is about and what it isn’t about. Too many of his colleagues at full council either failed to understand the present state of negotiatons, or, in the case of the usual suspects, prenteded not to understand.
    But in the interests of informed debate he needs to go further. He needs to disentangle himself from the malevolent influence within his group of those usual suspetcs; he needs to explain to them that the fact that there are elections next May is a distraction which needs to be ignored for the sake of the island; likewise the fact that informal shortlisting of parilamentary candidates in going on in the background; and he also needs to spare us his own party political asides such as “unlike our PFI contract, this is not free money” (try telling anyone at the town and parish council coalface that PFI involves anything other than blood sweat and tears).
    What’s most important, though, is what seems to have fallen off the bottom of Cllr Hutchinson’s letter: an answer to the simple question, repeatedly asked of the Tory Group and never answered – what exactly is the island supposed to do, in order to stay financially afloat, if this devolution route, promoted by your own Tory Government as the road to salvation, is not followed?

    Reply
  5. steve stubbings


    25.Oct.2016 3:05pm

    In the last Tory Press release on this matter (24 Oct) The Conservative leader, Cllr Stewart, is quoted as suggesting that “We already know that there are other options emerging to be considered at this time”. Isn’t it time they shared with us all what those other options are?
    And yes, Stuart, while you’re at it, please provide us with the ‘many other reasons why this deal (whatever this deal looks like!) is not right for this Island’

    Reply
    • retired hack


      25.Oct.2016 4:16pm

      I notice that Cllr Wayne Whittle was given a perfect opportunity at the Executive meeting to explain these other options, and all he could come up with was a gratuitous insult. He said: “You haven’t been provided with anything because there’s no point giving binoculars to a blind man.”
      What he actually should have said was: “Search me,” or even better: “I’m here to apologise on behalf of my Tory collleagues for their display of naked political grandstanding.”

      Reply
  6. Anything has to be better than what we have now.
    I needed to speak to someone in County Hall today.
    I held on for almost 2 hours and still no one answered.
    If the present Council cannot even answer a phone they cannot run a Council effectively
    Lets get rid of them and try something new.

    Reply
    • Steve Goodman


      25.Oct.2016 11:14pm

      ?Or

      We have what we have now largely because of the Conservative’s ‘things’ locally and nationally, which have proved not to be better, and is why County Hall staff have been cut and why those left are having to try to deal with an increased workload.
      As not much seems to be run effectively in the best interests of taxpaying citizens
      Lets get rid of the Conservatives and/ or try something new.

      Especially things proved to work well.

      Private Eye is one good place to start looking for free information on what not to do, and what should save us money and improve life for everyone.

      Unless already doing so, why not try reading PE while waiting for calls to be answered by overworked and probably underpaid staff?

      Reply
  7. Sounds like Cllr Hutchinson is operating on the level of

    ‘always keep a-hold of Nurse
    For fear of finding something worse’.

    The list of concerns he gives is doubtless also in the Indies’ minds as matters needing to be answered once they are given the details of Devo. They aren’t ingenues.

    I’m not sure what “time and money” Cllr Hutchinson is worried us spending on this exploration – that of officers and councillors doing their jobs, perhaps, in the face of our desperate financial circumstances?

    Thank goodness they aren’t overcome by ‘scaredy-cat’ feelings as Cllr Hutchinson appears to be.

    “…combining two rival cities 14 miles apart, with a mainly rural offshore Island. That sounds like it might not work ..” Should we not find out if it *might* work?

    The non-specific “combining” feeds Smithy’s misunderstanding that current daily Council functions will be out of our hands.

    I had understood that Cllr Hitchinson has a good grasp of Council business, but my opinion has been considerably revised in the light of this attempt to paper over the cracks of his party’s shenanigans, acting as though we have a choice of Devo offers, and citing PFI as “free money”.

    If he is the best the Tories can offer, things are far worse than I thought.

    Reply
    • steve stubbings


      26.Oct.2016 7:54am

      Cllr Hutchinson IS the best the Tories can offer. A thoroughly decent and thoughtful man. He’s the boss at the moment, in Cllr Stewart’s absence. I suspect that’s why he’s ended up being obliged to release this statement. It is immensely to his credit that he didn’t get Cllr Whitehouse to write it for him.

      Reply
      • I’m afraid that from a mere punter’s pov that’s not a lot of comfort, when it comes to his bolstering and propagating misunderstandings that are against reality and common sense, on behalf of a voting alliance that seeks to actively undermine and disseminate misinformation for their own covert political reasons.

        Reply
  8. steve stubbings


    26.Oct.2016 7:49am

    I find the argument that we shouldn’t share a mayor with Portsmouth and Southampton ‘because we’re different’ increasingly specious and somewhat disturbing. After all, we share a Government with London and that really is another world!

    Reply
  9. steve stubbings


    26.Oct.2016 8:05am

    One thing’s for sure… we now have the ‘many other reasons’ to add to the ‘other emerging options’ on our list of unanswered questions.

    I’m off to buy some binoculars.

    Reply
    • No need to buy any.

      I’m sure Mr Whittle will have some he can give you.

      Reply
      • Steve Goodman


        26.Oct.2016 9:00am

        Which reminds me that this month is the 4th anniversary of Mr Whittle’s conviction and fine for selling counterfeit and unsafe goods.

        Reply
        • Typical unpleasant sneer from Goodman.

          Reply
          • I observe another typically unpleasant and backfiring attempt to divert attention from the reported unpleasant facts about an unpleasant person doing unpleasant things.

          • Steve Goodman


            27.Oct.2016 12:36am

            For those who missed it, the actual unpleasant sneer giving rise to this little diversion was that from convicted Cllr/ Mr Whittle (or Whittle, as readers like Observer might prefer) – as reported in the excellent OTW live coverage of the Executive Committee meeting:

            “Cllr Whittle puts his hand up.

            He says

            You haven’t been provided with anything because there’s no point giving binoculars to a blind man.”

            I expect that Mr Whittle was more respectful and better behaved when he was in court, and I hope that he and his friends will be better behaved and a bit more helpful from now on, because there are some rather important jobs to do.

  10. Luisa Hillard


    26.Oct.2016 7:48pm

    I respect Cllr Hutchinson. He actually reads (and can understand) the reports he’s given, and many times I have said that he’s the most able Conservative in County Hall.

    What a pleasure then, to read a calm and reasoned article which actually bears resemblance to my experience of reality… Unfortunately, whilst (mostly) factually accurate there still appear to be serious omissions of key facts which skew the perception of the Devolution process.

    Reply
  11. INKY WAH WAH.


    27.Oct.2016 7:05pm

    What an Offensive remark from Steve Goodman regarding Councillor Whittles conviction for having had an improper item in his retail business. Bearing in mind that the word conviction also means, “firmly held belief” in that the Court accepted Mr Whittles firm belief and argument as to why the article was placed in his shop by a third party. And also there is the fact that the conviction was so trivial that it became spent almost 3 years ago under new guidance of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 that applies from 10 March 2014.
    I was pondering as to what parity there is between Councillor Whittles events, and a person? Who is involved in the offence of Harassment, whereby an individual has to be removed from a public gallery during a full Council meeting and escorted from the building?
    “Harassment” An incident where two or more people are harassed, and is the intention of a person to persuade someone not to do something they are entitled to do or persuade them to do something they are entitled not to do.
    Those who harass other people at a public meeting can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 6 months and receive a fine of up to five thousand pounds if said Chairman had exercised his right and had called, and reported the incident to the police.

    “People who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones”

    Reply
    • Steve Goodman


      27.Oct.2016 11:54pm

      “Agreed”. So why not take your own advice?

      “People who are in a hole should stop digging” also applies, unless there is a wish to continue to extend this little diversion.

      Having just got back from a good night out, and having just enjoyed some very good alcohol, I will limit my immediate reply.

      Perhaps I should also thank you for keeping this case live, as they say in the courts.

      Goodnight.

      Reply
    • Steve Goodman


      28.Oct.2016 10:29am

      More accurately than Inky:

      ‘What an Offensive remark from Councillor Whittle, reminding us that his rehabilitation appears incomplete four years after his conviction for having multiple improper items in his retail business. (OTW: “Isle of Wight Conservative county councillor for Ryde North East, Wayne Whittle, has been ordered to pay over £2,500 after admitting to two counts of selling counterfeit goods and two relating to the sale of unsafe goods. Readers will remember the report we ran back June 2011, when Trading Standard warned residents to avoid using or buying novelty giant lighters. Cllr Whittle had been warned of the dangers of the lighter, but his remaining stock went on sale at his Christmas Shop in Bracknell at the end of 2011, along with fake ‘Ped Egg’ and ‘Snuggie’ items.”)

      Unlike Mr Whittle, Mr Goodman has no court convictions, and most certainly has never been “involved in the offence of harassment”, not even Inky’s incorrect version of it. In fact, Mr Goodman is one of the people with experience of the well documented aggressive and bullying behaviour of some of Mr Whittle’s Conservative colleagues in the previous council, who desperately tried, and failed, to stifle increasing public questioning and engagement in response to the council’s also well documented unwelcome actions and attitudes, which is one of the reasons they were voted out. (OTW: “For the first time in our history of covering full council meetings, the council meeting was called to a halt tonight just 30 minutes in. Chairman Cllr David Williams called the adjournment after a member of the public objected to not being able to ask a supplementary question. Steve Goodman had asked why he hadn’t received figures on the council’s spending on roads as promised by Cllr Giles at the previous meeting.” Background; the Cons had for years been quietly cutting back on road maintenance ahead of committing residents to the controversial PFI deal, which is another reason they were voted out.) Rather than, as promised, answer an embarrassing question, the response was to tell the questioner to shut up, and when that didn’t work, to stop anything getting done by suspending the meeting. Ten minutes later Mr Goodman agreed to leave to end the time wasting, and these days the council hides less and is much more open and engaging than previously.’

      Reply
    • Sally Perry


      28.Oct.2016 11:27am

      I haven’t read through all the comments fully, but from a quick scan it appears this conversation is going decidedly off-topic.

      Perhaps we can draw a line under it now please.

      Reply

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