Category Archives: LEP or SEP

OxLEP SEP refresh consultation

I sent in my response today. You have until Friday to respond. 

1. How does the SEP capture the main characteristics of the Oxfordshire economy, its challenges and opportunities?

I read this week that the workforce population is set to decline over the next decades.

The ambitious jobs growth projection seems to mean people living elsewhere will come to work in Oxfordshire. With roads at or over capacity, what plan are there to increase capacity?

The AONB and Green Belt are constraints on development.

I don’t think the SEP does enough to tackle or even recognize these two main constraints: roads and other infrastructure to support planned development, and an environmental sustainability aspect. I get that your focus is economic growth. But in a sustainable world, you need partners who look out for the environmental and social aspects of sustainability. I think that’s lacking in your plan and approach.

We have a problem here in Vale with home affordability. If we continue to attract low paying jobs (eg, warehouse, retail, services industries, other unskilled jobs) that don’t pay enough for people to be able to afford to live here, then we need to adapt housing policies to meet the needs of the workers.

2. People – are the right priorities and commitments included? If not, what is missing?

Young people and workers on average wages are being priced out. I don’t see anything in these plans to address this problem. IMO, this is the main challenge we face in the county.

If the working age population is declining, then presumably the other age brackets are growing (since population is forecast to grow). As people live longer and need places to live, what sort of growth strategy considers what’s needed for them? Could a plan for housing for older people contribute to growth and jobs here?

Should we consider whether some parts of Oxfordshire are full? Oxford City, for instance, is unable to meet its housing needs, yet continues to commit its available land to jobs growth. This short term focus on growth at all costs is guaranteeing longer-term problems with impassable roads, and ever-out-of-reach-to-theaverage-worker housing prices.

How will we educate our children when our population has doubled? Many families already cannot find a school place locally. This would seem to be a clear criteria for People.

3. Place – are the right priorities and commitments included? If not, what is missing?

I don’t see a priority to protecting what you’ve called our ‘key asset’, our natural environment.

As I said before, if your remit is to plan for sustainable growth, then it’s an ethical question that would be well answered by proactive partnering with residents and organisations that have views on environmental and social aspects of sustainability. For example, what if all development had a carbon-neutral requirement? Wouldn’t principles like that actually contribute to the world-leading reputation you aspire to?

It would be helpful (even if not mandatory) to have environmental assessments in place for the various bits of your plans. How else do you know about their viability?

4. Enterprise – are the right priorities and commitments included? If not, what is missing?

How will you measure jobs growth? Should there be a categorisation of jobs?

We may say we want jobs across the spectrum of pay grades, jobs for all skill levels and qualifications. But if we continue to create more low paying jobs, where will those workers live?

I think it serves the population well to promote balanced growth, as I’ve said before. If we do all we can to encourage young people to get training to quality them for jobs they’ll find personally and financially rewarding, and then provide those sorts of jobs, and homes they can rent or buy, we’ll have something to point to with pride.  

Also as technology or other conditions make certain jobs obsolete, it would serve the population if we had a scheme that provided re-training to mature workers who need to change jobs.

5. Connectivity – are the right priorities and commitments included? If not, what is missing?

Our bus services are being cut back, and at the same time housing developments are planned for sites that allow more reliance on public transport. Our cycle tracks are below standard. Trains are SRO, and there’s no link between Wantage and Oxford. If we are serious about promoting non-car travel, we need higher priority for high-quality public transport.

With the planned growth in jobs and houses in the Wantage and Grove area, where’s the plan for a rail station there?

6. Does the SEP articulate clearly the roles and responsibilities of OxLEP?

As far as I can see, OxLEP is unaccountable to the people,. Without any way for the people whose lives and jobs are affected by what OxLEP decides to have any input into the decisions made, there’s bound to be strain. Meetings are private; the public have no role in the way it’s set up and led today.

As I said elsewhere, I think that since it was set up like this by government, it’s understandable.

But I feel there is a moral and ethical responsibility to be more inclusive, collaborative and accountable to better serve the residents of this county. Since that isn’t legislated, it has to come from the principles of the key players, or the ‘corporate culture’. In some sense, it’s even more important, simply from the fact that it’s not required but something to point to as ‘the way it should be done’.  

25 May 2016

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:

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:

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.