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LGA Chairman seeks to answer ‘The English Question’

LGA Chairman seeks to answer ‘The English Question’

🕔03.Jul 2013

Sir Merrick Cockrell, Chairman of the Local Government Association, has set out a far reaching and radical vision for local government. Speaking at the Local Government Association Conference 2013, Cockell launchedRewiring Public Services , a campaign calling for a radical devolution settlement for local government in England.

Comparing the constitutional position in England to the devolved powers he said: “People in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have a much greater say over everything from education and health to transport. Local government in England is still battling for the same freedoms to tackle national and local priorities”.

His 10-point speech outlined several ambitious proposals including a ‘Local Treasury in every place’, an overhaul of the funding formula for local government and an England Office that would “draw together all areas of central government which impact at a local level”. All of this would be preserved in a new constitutional settlement enshrined in law.

He railed against the Barnett formula funding for local government, arguing it was outdated and showed a marked difference between the devolved powers and the English systems of local governance: “… what are we in England getting out of devolution? Well the answer is, not enough. I know that none of us want to hold the other nations back but we need equity and fairness throughout the United Kingdom.”

Cockell argued complete structural reform of local government was required. A Local Treasury would manage the new funding settlement “reducing red tape and bureaucracy from Whitehall” and re-engaging citizens by shifting decision-making to localities and giving the local electorate direct influence over local spending.

A new England Office would oversee this greater local autonomy by merging major Whitehall divisions including the departments for local government, energy culture, Defra, transport, and parts of the Home Office and BIS.

Cockell said he wanted to stop the ‘Ask Eric’ approach of centralised government control in England by reducing ministers’ powers to intervene in local decisions. The Rewiring Public Services report would be a blueprint for legislation that Cockell said would see local government “freed from micro-managing ministerial interference”.

Birmingham city Council’s Sir Albert Bore has spoken consistently about the need to redefine local government and looks set to make a number of policy announcements that will shape local government in Birmingham for years to come. But with the underwhelming figure for the LEP thimble, the electorate decidedly against more tiers of local government (including mayors), and disinterested national policymakers Cockell’s journey to English devolution is set to be an uphill climb.

Benjamin Mulvihill is a Research Assistant at RJF Public Affairs.

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