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Combined authority chief: devo agreement 'hideously complex'

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The chief executive of the West of England CA has described securing local agreement on the region’s devolution deal as “hideously complex”.

Patricia Greer told an event on delivering the industrial strategy in central London yesterday that some people within councils see the combined authority as a “threat” and admitted maintaining agreement on common goals is an “ongoing issue”.

Ms Greer, who is also chief executive of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and led the development of the region’s devolution deal agreed with the government in November 2016, said: “It was one of the most hideously complex change programmes I have ever undertaken.

“At one level for many people it is a threat to their own existing role. They can see things beginning to be done in different ways across the authority rather than within the authority and that takes a different kind of leadership.

“It won’t be just once. You think you have got them and then they will disappear again. It is a constant ongoing issue – getting people involved and getting them to own the agenda.”

The West of England devolution deal was signed by Bristol City Council, Bath & North East Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council. North Somerset Council refused to join over the requirement for an elected mayor.

Ms Greer said the “watershed moment” in the deal’s development was when a dedicated team of staff from each local authority was formed and quickly united under a “shared agenda”.

She said it was important that leadership and staff understood other people’s perspectives and were willing to “walk in their shoes”, but also warned against conceding ground on core principles.

“In my experience usually nobody is fully right and the answer is, and it is not a compromise, in the middle somewhere,” Ms Greer said. “Compromise is never a good thing because no-one gets what they want.”

The industrial strategy, which was published in November last year, said local strategies are to be led by the six combined authority mayors in England, while “the development of the strategy will be led by the local enterprise partnership” in the rest of the country.

Ms Greer warned there is “a lot more to do” to communicate the relevance of the industrial strategy more widely.

She said: “There is a risk it is the same bunch of people, like ourselves, using managerial language that we understand.

“We struggled with this when setting up the combined authority – explaining what it is about and why it is necessary using everyday language.”

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