Cabinet backs Joint Committee plans

Somerset County Council’s Cabinet this week endorsed proposals to take the next step towards Devolution.

It backed recommendations that would see a Joint Committee established for the Heart of the South West (HotSW) area. Later this month Full Council will decide whether to accept the recommendations and commit the authority to the new arrangements.

Somerset and Devon county, unitary and district councils, along with Clinical Commissioning Groups, National Parks and the Local Enterprise Partnership have been working towards a Devolution deal for more than two years. If the recommendations are agreed by all partners, this work will be taken forward by the Joint Committee, the aim being to bring additional funding and decision making powers to the local level and use them to help increase productivity and economic prosperity.

The Joint Committee, which would be made up of representatives from all 23 organisations in the partnership, would have no decision making powers beyond approving a Productivity Strategy for the Devon and Somerset. It would not deliver services or run contracts. It would coordinate work to deliver the Productivity Strategy once this is in place and, importantly, become the route for any future negotiations towards Devolution.

Councillor David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council and Chair of the Shadow Joint Committee, said: “The potential opportunities offered by Devolution are huge, as we have seen in the extra funding that has been available to other areas.

“Setting up a Joint Committee would be taking a step nearer a Devolution deal for our area without committing any organisation to the whole journey – we have come this far by consensus across the partnership and we will continue to work that way.

“This council is ambitious and confident about what it can achieve. I believe working closer with partners in this way will help us in the work we do to improve people’s lives”.

Last week the Shadow Joint Committee met in Taunton, discussing the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit, a report from the Rural Productivity Commission and an update on the HotSW productivity strategy that aims to drive up productivity in the area.

All the partnership authorities will be taking the same set of recommendations through their decision-making processes before mid-January. If approved, the first formal meeting of the Joint Committee would be before the end of that month.