OxLEP’s SEP refresh consultation

Say what??!

The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) plans to ‘refresh’ their Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) and hold a public consultation. Here’s my note about it all:

OxLEP is a quango whose purpose is to promote economic growth in Oxfordshire. Their premise is that “Growth is Good”. They essentially bid for big money from government to support large infrastructure projects in Oxforshire.

See more about them here: http://www.oxfordshirelep.org.uk/content/about-us

OxLEP are not democratically elected; they were formed by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Their strategy doc is the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP), published in 2014. They state in their FAQs doc for this upcoming consultation that they did not consult the public before publishing the original SEP, because they ran out of time.

(There is a saying making the rounds on Facebook this week: Instead of saying ” I don’t have time” try saying ” It isn’t a priority for me”. How does that feel?)

They are ‘refreshing’ the SEP, and holding a public consultation. See their SEP refresh FAQs doc here: http://www.oxfordshirelep.org.uk/sites/default/files/SEP%20Refresh%20FAQs%20Final.pdf

The SEP is the source of the anticipated jobs growth figures that underlie the astronomical housing figures in the SHMA. I think the jobs growth figures are unevidenced (that’s what I’ve been told, and I haven’t seen any evidence myself.) LEP claims the housing figures are nothing to do with them, but come from SHMA. That’s disingenuous, because the housing need figures are based on the SEPs jobs growth figures. All of this has led to the local plans to grow Oxfordshire such that the equivalent of two new Oxfords must be built in the next 15 years. Local authorities’ plans to permanently remove large swathes of the Green Belt land from protection are based on SEPs jobs figures which are based on something the public has never even seen.

This SEP is being ‘refreshed’. And they will hold a public consultation on the refresh between mid-April and Mid-May. But the refresh doesn’t visit all of the SEP contents, so this is a consultation on a part of the SEP. They will not be revisiting their numbers, as I understand it. So the figures that led to the SHMA figures will remain as they are without any pubic consultation.

There is a steering group listed in the FAQs doc for this consultation. All district councils are included, except Vale of White Horse. I think this is an error, and that since Anna Robinson sits on that group, and she works for both SODC and VWHDC, that Vale IS represented. I’ve just today asked OxLEP for clarification on this. I also have a provisional meeting with Anna Robinson next week about this consultation.

Within the FAQs doc, notice the schedule for the consultation, and particularly the time allowed after the consultation for results analysis and consideration of how the consultation will inform any changed to the SEP. There are three working days between the end of consultation and first draft publication of the consultation report. Three days. That gives a pretty clear view of how seriously they take their responsibility to consult. Looks like a box ticking exercise to me. As usual, I’d like to be proved wrong about this.

I am encouraging Lib Dems throughout Oxfordshire to promote openness and transparency in this consultation. The bigger aim is to do what we can to ensure OxLEP fairly represents Oxfordshire’s needs for future growth.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. The public deserves a meaningful say in growth targets for Oxfordshire; they’ve had none so far, and this consultation doesn’t include the growth figures.
  2. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there has never been a debate about LEP’s SEP in any Local Authority Council or Cabinet.
  3. In addition to economic growth, there are also social and environmental considerations that lie at the heart of decision making about sustainable growth. How are these consideration being included?
  4. We think a growth strategy should have a full (and meaningful) public consultation.
  5. We think a growth strategy should have an Strategic Environmental Assessment.
  6. We think the SEP consultation should include access to the evidence base supporting the SEP’s strategy.
  7. How can SEP be evaluated without knowing what infrastructure is required and whether it’s deliverable?
  8. At their workshops recently, their questions were closed-end or leading. We think well-formed open-ended questions provide space for any sort of disagreement with the basic principles they’ve adopted. Example questions from one workshop:
    1. Does Oxfordshire have world-leading connectivity?
    2. What kinds of connectivity are most important in seeking to achieve the outcomes linked to SEP’s vision (ie vibrancy, sustainability, inclusivity, world-leading)?

I know the public who are aware of this care about it. A lot. I intend to do what I can to ensure the consultation is meaningful. Too often, there are no significant changes that come from public responses, even when the public response is serious, fundamental, and evidence-based. I’m hoping we can have a positive impact on that and that things will get better.