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Politicians urged to deliver a ‘devolution revolution’ for English cities

Politicians urged to deliver a ‘devolution revolution’ for English cities

🕔22.Sep 2014

If delegates at this year’s party conferences knew little about devolution before they got to the annual political bun fight, they will certainly appreciate the D-word by the time they get home.

Buoyed by the Scottish referendum and the Government’s promise of ‘home rule’ for England, the campaign to give English cities and regions a measure of self-control away from the iron fist of Whitehall is gathering pace and making itself heard.

The Centre for Cities think tank has launched its 2015 General Election Urban Nation manifesto, which it describes as “a commanding and practical vision for building a stronger UK national economy based on more powerful, better-resourced cities”.

The document calls on the next Government to pass a Cities and Prosperity Act in the first year of the new parliament which would introduce a presumption in favour of devolution for city regions and councils like Greater Manchester which have joined together in Combined Authority status.

Metro authorities would be handed London-style powers under directly elected mayors and would be responsible for developing a strategic and integrated economic plan.

The new powers could include:

  • Increased flexibility and control over fiscal revenue, including business rates and council tax, with the ability to raise additional funding for economic growth projects
  • Freedom to introduce new charges, including recycling and tourist taxes, and the ability to introduce levies on existing taxes including a one per cent levy on VAT
  • The formation of Transport for London-equivalent bodies with strategic and operational control over public transport delivery and funding
  • Greater influence in the commissioning of targeted employment services to better meet the needs of local job-seekers, workers and businesses
  • Strategic oversight and responsibility over land use and housing delivery, including authority over Homes and Communities Agency assets and the ability to acquire land for housing and regeneration.

In return for these additional powers, combined authorities would set out a timetable for introducing a directly elected metro mayor or “an equivalent directly accountable leader”.

Although the idea has proved highly controversial, Centre for Cities places elected mayors at the heart of its devolution plan: “With a democratic mandate and accountability, a directly elected mayor for the city-region, sitting above a combined authority, would provide the visibility, clarity and legitimacy to improve coordination and collaboration between individual councils, the private and voluntary sectors.

“They would also be a strong champion for the city-region in negotiations with central government and with local, national and international businesses and investors.”

The document also calls for major changes to Local Enterprise Partnerships.

The geography of LEPs would be reviewed on a case by case basis to make sure the bodies reflected the boundaries of combined authorities or functional economic areas.

Centre for Cities chief executive Alexandra Jones said: “The UK’s economy is being held back by the underperformance of many of its cities, which for too long have suffered from a lack of power and funding compared to their international counterparts. It has never been clearer that the status quo, whereby decisions and funding are tightly held in Westminster, must come to an end if we are to drive long-term economic prosperity.

“The Cities and Prosperity Act will transform the UK economy by laying the foundation for a new relationship between cities and central government. It will put fiscal devolution and the decentralisation of other significant powers from Whitehall immediately on the table for those city-regions with the capacity and appetite to drive change, and will support and encourage others to transition sustainably towards assuming a greater role in fuelling economic growth.

“The enormous amount of interest we have seen right across the political spectrum over the past few months in UK cities, and their disparities in economic performance, has been extremely welcome.

“This manifesto offers a clear path forward for political parties to turn their rhetoric into action, and demonstrate their commitment to building the strong and robust urban nation we need for future prosperity.”

 

The Chamberlain Files and its publisher RJF Public Affairs are supporting the ThinkBirmingham campaign, part of ThinkCities backed by the Centre for Cities. Andrew Carter, Deputy Chief Executive at the think tank, will be appearing at Empowering Cities: How Greater Financial Powers for Cities will Benefit the UK next Monday. 

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