Last week at the Labour Conference in Manchester, leaders of the UK’s Core Cities – Leeds among them, wrote to William Hague, demanding English devolution.
A No for independence is a Yes for devolution, not just in Scotland, but across the United Kingdom. Devolution is now the most important constitutional political issue facing Parliament, and the 10 Welsh, Scottish and English cities of the newly expanded ‘Core Cities UK’ have met today to agree plans for how this can happen across the whole of the Union.
The 10 Core Cities deliver 28% of the English, Welsh and Scottish economies combined. By 2030, the eight English Core Cities alone could put 1.16 million jobs and £222 billion extra into the economy. That’s like adding the entire economy of Denmark to the UK – with Glasgow and Cardiff onside it will be even more – more houses, jobs, growth and prosperity.
To reach these targets, the English cities alone will need to achieve the following.
• 259,000 more graduates and 443,000 people with NVQ Level 1-3 than currently predicted
• Transport infrastructure capable of supporting 250,000 more commuters and 51,000 extra business journeys a day
• Around £104 billion capital investment
These challenges cannot be met by our heavily centralised and over bureaucratic systems of investment and delivery. Although our cities contribute a massive share of the nation’s wealth, they largely underperform by international standards.
Overwhelming evidence demonstrates this is because they have too long been subject to centralised control, and this is just as true for Glasgow and Cardiff as it is for cities in England.
People clearly want more local freedom from central constraint, wherever they live. And to get better results for the economy and public services, devolution has to be to cities. Devolution cannot just be to national parliaments, replacing a centralised Government in Westminster with one in Scotland, Wales or indeed England. An English parliament alone is not the answer. We therefore welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that Government must “empower our great cities”.
There is now an unquestionable case that it is far more important to have devolution at a much more local level, starting with our great cities, where devolution will result in the greatest benefits in terms of jobs, growth and improved public services.
Whilst the referendum debate took place in Scotland, we have held public debates in our Core Cities, ‘Local Voices’, which will continue in the months ahead as we push for greater local freedom. These events have demonstrated the passion people feel about where and how they live across the UK, and that the right levels of local autonomy matter.
Business agrees. All the Chairs of the Core City-area Local Enterprise Partnerships in England have signed a joint statement supporting policies for devolution. At our recent National Business Summit in London, senior figures from retail, manufacturing, investment, venture capital and the CBI also agreed with us.
It’s cities that drive growth and jobs for their nations, not the other way around. To do so cities need more freedom, for example to decide how more of the taxes raised locally are spent locally.
A programme of devolution for Scotland has been set out, but our national agenda for devolution is simply not radical enough. The devolution we need has to be at the level of the city and even the neighbourhood. Any legislation must make provision for the whole of the UK, and specifically for its cities – Core Cities, but other places too. Although the timing should not restrict the promises to Scotland being delivered, we would like to see this within the same time frame for the whole of the UK.
Our communities, our voters, will not accept delays based on constitutional wrangles, or half measures delivered through political compromise. They want and deserve action and leadership on this agenda across all three main parties.
The devolution we seek will get solutions closer to problems allowing success to be judged by one simple standard: better outcomes. It will allow not only more effective delivery of economic, social and environmental interventions, but also far more effective integration of services at the right geographic level, giving us for more bang for each pound of public sector investment. More jobs and growth; investment for housing and transport; improved public services. In short unlocking the massive unused potential of our cities.
The people of Scotland have decided that devolution and Union are not incompatible, and neither is local freedom and national growth. In an increasingly competitive global economy the UK’s big cities are Britain’s best bet, and devolution to them must match our ambition, our passion and that of the people that live in them.’
Scotland’s vote increasingly looks like only the beginning of a new era in which devolution will be a central question.
That question cannot be left to a quick, party- politically driven Westminster stitch up.
It’s a question which affects all of us – and our economic future.
The Core cities like Leeds are raising their voices.
We need devolution – but we also ALL need a say in it.