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Rebalance, reform and renewal at the core of devolution – Nick Forbes speech to the Core Cities Cabinet

May 14, 2015

Today we come together as Core City leaders and mayors to set out a vision of how we can make our country a better, fairer and more successful place. Today we launch our Devolution Declaration.

We’ll talk this morning not just about what we want from the new Government but what we can offer. The difference we can make to our country together.

You will hear today about our version of the ‘three rs’ – rebalance, reform and renewal.

The UK is one of the most centralised states in the world. Canada for example, holds ten times more tax receipts at a local level than the UK, Germany six times.

This has made the UK the country in Europe with the greatest regional economic disparity.

It’s not good for regions, for cities, for our residents or the country. Now is the time to do more.

Today we’ll set out how we can rebalance and grow our economy to create more jobs and eliminate the deficit, reform public services to improve outcomes and renew democracy.

You’ll also hear from a variety of experts from think tanks and academia that will set out some of the key challenges facing the city devolution agenda. As a Vice-Chair of Core Cities UK, I am proud of the role we have played in the great debate about the future of our country.

We have helped turn the UK’s cities from a problem to an opportunity, from a peripheral element in the debate about devolution, to a fundamental element of the solution.

And, while Westminster debates, local communities take action. In every one of the Core Cities, new partnerships are being created – between authorities, between the public and private sectors, and above all within communities.

The Devolution Declaration is our vision of a modern state for a stronger Britain.

But we’re also clear that devolution isn’t just about grand constitutional settlements. It’s about people.

It’s about finding better solutions for the citizens who struggle to make sense of the support available to them from a myriad of centrally-directed agencies and departments.

It’s about the business that wants to recruit skilled labour from their local communities.

It’s about finding a solution to the big public service challenges which face our communities – from the crisis in health and social care, to the need to improve bus services, to support for people suffering from poor mental health.

It’s about reducing poverty, addressing the deep seated inequalities in health, wealth and wellbeing which blight our communities.

The challenge is nothing less than the creation of a modern state – fit for today’s local and global challenges. A state that works for people not against them.

As people grow increasingly distant from Westminster politics and distrustful of politicians of all parties, they are more keen than ever on local solutions.

The last five years have seen unparalleled cuts to public services. More has been cut from local government than central government. More has been cut from the cities than from other, more prosperous areas. We’ve been forced into false economies which cut one part of the public sector – only to see higher costs emerge in other services.

As core city leaders we have fronted–up some of the most damaging implications, explained them to our communities, and won their support for radical reforms.

This experience tells us that a crisis in public services can only to averted through radical new approaches, delivered locally. Devolution is not just a constitutional issues – it’s a necessity if we’re to deliver the “bolder, better, braver” approach to public services, the only solution we have to continued austerity.

There’s increasing evidence that a place-based approach to spending and budgeting can save money, create a smarter state and improve outcomes.

We saw progress under the last Government. As well as the much heralded, Northern Powerhouse, the last few months of the coalition administration saw Manchester’s local authorities given control over their NHS budgets, a host of city deals and a massive change of policy direction on bus re-regulation.

The period at the start of any new government creates a window for long-term thinking. We need to move from sporadic and piecemeal devolution of short-term, inefficient funding, towards a more fundamental transfer of long-term responsibility for our local economies – rebalancing, reforming and renewing Britain through action in our cities, our communities.

The new man at the top of DCLG, Greg Clark has built a credible relationship with the core cities, through the deals we’ve done so far. While our politics differ, we know him as an honest and principled support of devolution.

Without him the modest steps we have already taken would not have been possible. In my home city, I can show you the jobs and investment that have createdas a result of the deal that Greg and I did for Newcastle.

His appointment creates an opportunity to re-set the relationship between central and local government. The core cities will be constructive partners in that process – pathfinders for a new national settlement to rebalance power and rekindle our democracy. So – in our focus on rebalance, reform and renewal – we as core cities are stepping up demonstrate our commitment to a fourth “r” word: responsibility.

Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have already made encouraging noises on city devolution. Earlier this week during a visit to Stockton, the PM talked about the need to ‘driver power’ out of London to the regions.

And as well as getting its own minister, Northern Powerhouse was also mentioned in George Osbourne’s acceptance speech on election night.

But we need more than warm words. Today our message to the new government is clear.

Seize this opportunity and commit to work constructively with core cities to create a better future for our country.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ruaridh Mackenzie permalink
    May 14, 2015 7:40 pm

    This Northern Powerhouse so called will be slow to come to Newcastle if it ever does. It will be centered round Manchester as is does now.It will then Move to Leeds and Liverpool.
    My reasoning for this, there are two lines on the map of the country, the Scottish border, and the one that runs Hull Leeds Manchester Liverpool. The space in between is inhabited by savages. I also think we would be better off if we threw our lot in with the Scots!!

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