So finally, we made it to the first Joint Committee meeting of the Heart of The South West (Devon and Somerset to you and me). This is the meeting we led on in our March edition, the organisation that depending on your point of view, will or won’t turn into a devolved authority. More on that in the April Leveller.
The meeting (held in Plymouth) had already been postponed from 2nd March due to all that snow, but by the time it finally met on the 23rd March, another snowstorm had been and gone and melted away.
The meeting would, we were promised, be video-recorded and broadcast live. But we at Leveller Towers don’t take chances and we despatched the editor on one of GWRs slowest trains, a two-carriage crawl across the South West for the lion’s share of two hours. The train promised free WiFi and power. The WiFi, it turned out, was the only thing in the South West that was actually slower than the train, and the power sockets on the train (I tried 8 of them) didn’t actually have power.
Arriving at Plymouth, looking somewhat the worse for wear, the walk down to the City Council Chamber was actually a delight, a light spring air, hint of sun and suddenly all was well with the world.
The meeting was the first, so there were many formalities. As this is not just a talking shop, we started with a group photo. Then we needed officers. Initially the honours between Devon and Somerset were kept even, with David Fothergill of Somerset County Council voted into the chair and East Devon’s John Diviani voted in as Vice Chair.
I won’t dwell on the endless committees, jargon, briefings and the like, none of which actually did anything, but instead talked a lot of fancy language and made vague promises of future things to come. But as we moved down the agenda Councillor Fothergill gently chiding and cajoling as we went, we came across major issues like Housing, Transport and Growth all with capital initials as they are obviously Big Issues.
So Big in fact, that there was hardly the slightest nod to any debate. The odd quiet comment, but generally silence fell on the room. The agenda rattled through from points one to nine in this amiable fashion.
Proposed? Mumbled response, one hand goes up.
Seconded, oh if you must.
Show of hands? Unanimous? Yes. Next please. At one point we even saw a fancy new electronic voting system which confirmed the unanimity in the room with totally unnecessary graphics. Being a tax payer I wasn’t quite sure why a sophisticated electronic voting system was de rigueur when there were just 13 votes to count.
And so on until we hit the final item. The venue for the next meeting. Who of all the Districts and Counties assembled would play host next time around.
Suddenly the meeting sprang to life. Animated argument, exchanges of views, all sorts of opinion rained down on the chamber. This was what we had (apparently) all come to see.
Should Exeter host all meetings as the central city of the region?
Should the meetings wander from council capital to council capital?
Would Minehead be a good idea to demonstrate how lousy public transport in the region really was?
Finally, and making himself heard above the chaos with some difficulty, the Chair restored some sort of order. He ordained that the meetings would indeed be peripatetic but David Fothergill, wily politician as he is, was smart enough not to put that one to the vote.