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Hezza: Give Metro Mayors greater powers to deliver housing, skills and jobs

Hezza: Give Metro Mayors greater powers to deliver housing, skills and jobs

🕔02.Jul 2019

Britain’s metro mayors should be given greater powers over housing, schools and jobs to truly transform English cities and drive the economy, a new report from former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine has concluded.

Lord Heseltine’s report Empowering English Cities, commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and backed by the UK’s six Metro Mayors, sets out a series of proposals to boost city regions and devolve further funding and powers from Government, reports Kevin Johnson. 

The report concludes combined authorities should take on responsibility for affordable housing, school performance and employment training.

Lord Heseltine argues that city-regions like the West Midlands also need greater money raising powers – such as taking the locally raised slice of the road tax to fund transport infrastructure.

In 2012 Lord Heseltine’s report No Stone Unturned laid the foundations for the Government’s devolution policy, which led to the setting up of combined authorities and elections of the first six Metro Mayors in 2017.

His latest report was compiled following interviews with mayors of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West of England and West Midlands. It concludes that while there was great progress early on, this has now stalled in recent years with national political attention focussed on Brexit.

He sets out the case for greater devolution arguing:

We must start with our great cities, the engines of our growth, the rocks upon which our prosperity stands.

There are 20 proposals which include:

  • Government to transfer day-to-day responsibility for affordable housing, school performance, skills and employment programmes to combined authorities
  • Mayoral combined authorities to have greater powers to raise local taxes – including receiving the local road tax, airport passenger duty and tourism taxes
  • The role of mayor needs to be strengthened, with the mayor able to appoint people – including from universities and business life – to the Combined Authority Cabinet and moving to a system of simple majority voting
  • More capital funding for transport, skills and housing to be devolved from Government departments
  • New Government Department for the English Regions led by a Cabinet minister and a Metro Mayors committee chaired by the Prime Minister.

The report will be launched at Birmingham Town Hall this morning by Lord Heseltine along with Andy Street and his Metro Mayor counterparts including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said:

Devolution has led to billions of pounds of investment and new powers handed down to the region, meaning we are not consumed by the Brexit logjam of Westminster and can carry on delivering for our regions.

This new report shows how the next Prime Minister can continue the hard work done by Lord Heseltine and others to really empower city regions in England. I wholeheartedly support the recommendations.

Lord Heseltine’s radical proposals talk about embedding the role of cites in Government while moving funding, powers and staff away from Whitehall to the regions.

Lord Heseltine also calls for the roles of mayor and Police Commissioner to be combined. WMCA has recently rejected the transfer of both fire and police governance to the the Mayor.

He argues cities are better placed to answer the challenges of new technology, low skills and poor infrastructure.

There is no single solution to tackling these economic challenges. If our great city-regions are once again to become the engines of economic growth for our country, it will require long term and enduring partnership work between the private sector and all levels of government, ensuring that city-regions have a good supply of skilled labour; are well connected; have land available for homes and employment; have rich, innovation ecosystems, often built around a university; and have an attractive cultural offer for their communities.

CBI West Midlands Director Richard Butler commented on the report:

The government now must publish a devolution framework outlining what powers can be devolved, how and when.

But with Westminster fully occupied by Brexit, those of us at the sharp end see the pressing challenges facing communities in the Midlands daily. It is time our communities took charge of our own destiny.

Lord Heseltine sets outs his role in England’s devolution journey over the last 50 years, including where he made mistakes. The peer is widely recognised for his contribution to regeneration and industrial policy across the country. However, he was removed from his unofficial role in Government, working closely with Business Secretary Greg Clark, by Theresa May and more recently had the whip removed over his revelation of voting Lib Dem at the European Elections.

His understanding and passion for the benefits of devolution are clear and compelling. Whether his successor as MP for Henley (now MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip), Boris Johnson, is ready to listen is another matter.

Chamberlain Files will have further analysis on devolution progress during the week.

Main pic: @Andrew_Adonis 

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