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Letting go of the reins…

October 31, 2014

An unstoppable force is sweeping through British politics that promises to change the way we are governed forever.

Ed Miliband’s announcement today of wholesale devolution for the English regions recognises and responds to the growing consensus that power needs to be spread across the country.

First, the Adonis Report recommended the North East Combined Authority receive control over full revenue from business rates. Second, the Chancellor threw his weight behind proposals for a northern powerhouse and the thirdly, just last week, the City Growth Commission report said London, Manchester and West Yorkshire may be ready for devolution and the North East is fast developing the process to take advantage of devolution.  Fourthly, add to this the Core Cities’ powerful campaign with the London boroughs, and the call for devolution is now deafening.

Ed Miliband’s announcement adds fuel to the fire and appears to be a commitment that if he were to be Prime Minister then the reins of power would be loosened and handed over to Britain’s towns and cities. Ultimately the public will decide but I welcome these proposals as another significant step along the road to devolution.
What is most striking is that the proposals recognise there is a need for a new relationship between local and national government. An English Regional Cabinet Committee which includes senior secretaries of state as well as local authority leaders is a major step forward. It will give added impetus to existing combined authorities and encourage councils that have not done so to join with neighbouring authorities.

In particular I welcome the move to enable councils to take control of local bus services. We are already leading the way on this in Tyne and Wear with our Quality Contracts Scheme which will provide lower average fares – with future rises capped to the cost of living – cheap travel for young people and a universal smart ticket as good as Oyster in London.  At the same time it will save the taxpayer money while protecting the routes and concessions which people rely on, because it will see more of the profits of the big bus companies now make put back into efficient, attractive local services.

Although the devolution juggernaut is now hurtling down the road I sincerely hope it is not overturned by a desire of those in Westminster to hold onto power.

It’s fine for the three parties to talk about devolution in the wake of the Scottish Referendum, but a bit rich to then starve local councils of the very funding they need to provide vital public services.

Powers and financial freedoms for cities will help set citizens free from a sense of hopelessness and neglect. They will also allow us to grow our own economies – boosting the national economy in an increasingly competitive world.

The rise of fringe political parties, some argue, are indicative of a general disillusionment with decisions made about us in distant Whitehall departments. They no longer believe that the person sitting in Westminster can make decisions to improve their lives and they want a new deal which enables decisions to be taken much closer to home.

It is now time for England’s cities and regions to take the reins of power so we can shape our own destinies.

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