I am writing to you as Chairman of the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
At our meeting on 7 February, we decided to bring this draft Order to the special attention of the House, on the ground that the explanatory material laid in support provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation.
We comment in our report on the draft Order that the picture of local views painted by your Department in the Explanatory Memorandum is incomplete and at times self-serving.
While the Explanatory Memorandum refers to two surveys of local views about the proposed Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA)–a telephone poll by Ipsos MORI, and an online exercise conducted by the local authorities–it says that, in the MORI survey, 61% of respondents supported a mayoral CPCA, while 23% were opposed; and that, in the online survey, 44% supported the transfer of powers and funding to the CPCA, while 47% were opposed. What is not mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum is the fact that 59% of online respondents opposed having an elected Mayor for the CPCA, while only 31% of online respondents supported the proposal. In our report, we voice our disappointment at such a selective approach to reporting the results of the online survey.
We also comment on the fact that your Department quotes from the local authorities’ analysis of the online survey to the effect the numbers in that survey “aren’t representative of the population as a whole”, and “the results represent a ‘self-selecting’ sample”; and that it states that the more negative responses to the Mayoral Combined Authority model from the online survey are outweighed by the more positive responses to the model by the MORI poll. Given that in the case of other draft Orders proposing to establish Combined Authorities, such as the draft West of England Combined Authority Order 2017, your Department has not voiced such reservations about information produced by online consultation exercises, we question whether it is taking a consistent view of different approaches to consultation.
We look to Government Departments to present a full and accurate account of the background to any statutory instruments that they lay before Parliament. In the case of the devolution Orders which your Department is laying, it is clearly the case that local support for functions to be devolved is often significantly greater than support for the introduction of an elected mayor as a concomitant of such devolution.
I would be grateful if you could confirm whether your Department is open to devolution of functions to local government without requiring the introduction of an elected mayor. I would also ask you to confirm that your Department will ensure that the information that it includes in Explanatory Memoranda to statutory instruments provides a full and objective account of the policy background, in particular the results of relevant consultations.
I would welcome a reply by Monday 20 February.
8 February 2017
Thank you for your letter of 8 February 2017. Let me say straightaway that our firm intention has consistently been, and remains, to ensure that the information provided in our Explanatory Memorandums is both sufficient to gain a clear understanding about an instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation and fairly presents any description of the consultation undertaken.
As to the draft Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Order 2017, I do not believe from the information provided in the Explanatory Memorandum that there can be any doubt about the policy objective and intended implementation of that Order. Section 7 of the Memorandum makes clear that the Instrument carries forward the manifesto commitment to devolve powers to large cities that choose to have an elected mayor, explains the importance of having a mayor to provide strong accountability, and that all seven councils in the area consented to the making of the Order. The Memorandum sets out how the Instrument establishes a Mayoral Combined Authority for the area, how powers then are being devolved, how they are to be exercised as the Order is implemented, and explains that a mayor is essential where wide ranging powers are devolved. In your letter you asked if a mayor is required for devolution; whilst we have agreed a devolution deal with the unitary Cornwall Council, we have consistently made clear that any ambitious deal, such as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s, requires an elected mayor to ensure there is adequate accountability for the extensive powers and budgets being devolved.
As to the consultation, the Explanatory Memorandum seeks to provide a balanced description of the consultations which the councils have undertaken. It expressly recognises that the online survey responses were more negative to a Mayoral Combined Authority model than those for the Ipsos MORI independent survey. The Explanatory Memorandum quoted that under the online poll 47% were opposed to the transfer of powers and funding to a Combined Authority. I accept that it did not record that 59% were opposed to a mayor; our intention had been to include this but due to an error whilst the drafting was being refined, this was omitted from the final text, for which I apologise.
However, I believe it is right to refer to the comment made by the councils that the online survey results “aren’t representative of the population as a whole” and represent a “self-selecting sample”. This is supported by the analysis of the online poll which shows an imbalance between gender, age and geographic spread of respondents: 35% of respondents were female, just 10% under the age of 34, and 2.6 respondents per 1000 in Huntingdonshire compared with 1.3 per 1000 from the Fenland council area. This contrasts with the methodology employed by Ipsos MORI to ensure a proportionally representative sample.
In conclusion I would simply reiterate our commitment to provide Explanatory Memoranda with all the information necessary to understand an Instrument’s policy objectives and intended implementation. You can be assured that we will do our utmost to deliver on this.
16 February 2017