The devolution genie is well and truly out of the bottle – and significant extra powers for metropolitan areas like West Yorkshire are on the cards. The City Growth Commission has now made its recommendations – massive devolution to the UK’s cities – ‘DevoMet’.
The arguments are primarily economic:
‘Urban economies are the beating heart of growth.
‘If the UK’s top 15 metros were to realize their potential, it is estimated they would generate an additional £79bn growth.’
But the democratic implications are enormous.
Key recommendations outline a significant shift – from the centre to metros – in policy and finance, enabling metro leaders to:
• Coordinate resources across their city-region and make strategic policy and finance decisions via place-based budgeting and investment strategy.
• Make more informed and responsive decisions based on evaluation of local data and evidence.
• Develop effective ways of integrating public service reform and economic development.
• Have greater flexibility over their spending and borrowing arrangements, including:
• Multi-year finance settlements of between five and 10 years,
• Retention of a proportion of the tax proceeds of growth; and
• Freedom for the most devolved metros to set and fully retain a suite of taxes.
Metros should also be represented in national decision making, bringing forward measures to enhance connectivity and growth, including:
• A comprehensive review on how our current and future needs for digital infrastructure can be met; and,
• Accelerated connectivity between metros in the North, Midlands and other ‘super city-regions’.
There’s a range of other proposals in the document – including things like e.g. an Oyster card for the North.
The proposal is for a timetable to match that for Scottish devolution – with a committee established by January – and with ‘presumption in favour of devolved powers’, Westminster would have to have good reason to refuse.
Leeds sits at the heart of one of the Commission’s metros – West Yorkshire – which includes Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Keighley, Halifax. With a population of 1,777,934 it is the third biggest – excluding London – after Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
There are notes of caution in the report. As it shows, the regions are internally very varied. The economic value produced per person in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2012, for example, ranged from £13,050 per head in Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham to £24,770 in Leeds.
But the current system over-centralised system is doing little or nothing to level out these inequalities – we are where we were 30 years ago! Metro regions – with their ear closer to local ground, and their potential for generating growth – could and should be the answer for whole regions.
Devolution of powers is something we’ve been talking about for over a year now – so we’re pleased to see the arguments gaining ground.
Keith Wakefield, Labour leader of Leeds, is pleased too.
“We very much welcome the historic recommendations of the City Growth Commission report and especially the findings of independent experts that we are ready to be trusted with unprecedented levels of decision-making, fiscal powers and responsibility.
“We have said all along that we need to be able to shape our own destiny rather than continue to be dictated to and held back by Whitehall, and these recommendations would enable us to make the major improvements we need. These powers would give us the ability to strengthen our communities and make real and long-term improvements to people’s prospects and their lives. The Leeds City Region would become a net contributor to the UK economy within five years.
“The debate over whether or not devolution should happen is over. Let’s get on and make it a reality and show that the confidence placed in us is more than justified to usher in a bright new future for the people of Leeds and the wider region.”
The debate is over in one sense – there’s surely no going back now on English devolution.
But this is just a report – a major contribution to the debate – the decisions are still not made.
The greatest threat is a quick Westminster – or Tory, party-political – stitch up, designed essentially to retain the status quo and to keep the reins of power firmly in Westminster hands.
DevoMet would have its own implications for the UK constitutional settlement.
This is a historic opportunity.
Don’t let’s let the Tories ‘English votes for English Laws’ sideshow derail it.