Corbyn gets devolution cold feet as WMCA talks with Treasury drag on
Labour is distancing itself from Government plans to devolve powers and budgets from Whitehall to the English regions in a move that could put the party at odds with its urban heartlands.
While Labour-led major cities including Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool are attempting to strike devolution deals with Chancellor George Osborne, the new party leader Jeremy Corbyn has led an outspoken attack on the devolution process.
He has ordered MPs to vote against the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill which is passing through the House of Commons at the moment.
The Bill will make it easier for councils to join together in combined authorities under the leadership of elected metro mayors. The seven West Midlands metropolitan councils are due to form a combined authority next April and are negotiating an £8 billion devolution deal with Mr Osborne to take charge of transport and economic development.
Mr Corbyn tabled an amendment to the Bill inviting MPs to refuse a second reading, effectively killing the legislation. It’s unlikely he will succeed, unless sufficient Conservative rebels abstain.
Mr Corbyn said the Bill did not offer “meaningful devolution” to England.
He said the Bill “ignores the will of the people by imposing mayors as a condition of devolution, threatens the financial stability of local government by not offering a fair funding settlement and fails to reshape central government for a long term commitment to devolution”.
While campaigning for the Labour leadership Mr Corbyn made it clear he regarded devolution as a Government method of imposing further spending cuts on councils through the back door.
Although appearing to hand money to councils, the Government will use devolution as a smokescreen to slash overall public spending, Labour believes.
Describing the Chancellor’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ vision as “a cruel deception” Mr Corbyn said devolution would give local authorities no ability to prevent spending cuts.
A policy document issued during the leadership campaign states:
Most parties on the surface agree to some sort of devolution to the north of England. What the Conservative government has embarked upon however is a cruel deception.
They have devolved cuts to spending, but not the power to do anything to stop them. They have also added extra financial commitments that local councils will have to meet but without any extra money.
There is still no sign of a breakthrough in negotiations between the Chancellor and council leaders over the proposed West Midlands devolution deal –six weeks after proposals were lodged with the Treasury, and with the cut-off deadline fast approaching for devolution plans to be included in Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement.
A number of shire district councils in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire have rejected an invitation to join the West Midlands Combined Authority. Lichfield is the latest council to say ‘no’.
Local Government Minister Marcus Jones, the MP for Nuneaton, has renewed a Government plea for metropolitan and district councils to work together.
Mr Jones told the District Councils Network assembly:
Devolution is as much about districts as about counties and cities. For those of you who have not yet put forward bids, we are still open to hearing from you.
We expect devolution of powers to local areas to happen throughout the Parliament, with deals dependent on the strength of the proposals received.
Devolution should inspire two-tier areas to come together with vision of a shared future. There are opportunities for areas to take on new powers and to have more funding devolved now – regardless of what we plan to offer in 2020. So I would encourage areas to come forward with ambitious proposals.
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