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21.03.16

Lord Kerslake calls devolution 'piecemeal and incoherent'

Devolution implementation in the UK is ‘piecemeal and incoherent’, Lord Kerslake has warned as the long-awaited report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution is published today.

The report says that devolution will happen at different paces for different nations and regions in the UK, but must be equally available for all.

It says that at the moment, there is a lack of consistency and clarity as to which powers are being devolved to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and which are being kept by Westminster.

Lord Kerslake, who chaired the inquiry and talked to PSE before the report’s publication, said: “Greater devolution has the potential to deliver a stronger economy, better services and a stronger Union. But what we are doing now is piecemeal and incoherent.

“As we lead up to the EU referendum and consider our identity within Europe, the need for a wider debate on how we better empower our local areas and govern is greater than ever.

“The time has come for a bigger conversation – one involving all citizens – if we want to reduce the gap between those that govern and those that are governed, and ensure devolution has a strong and lasting legacy whatever the result in June.

“Better and successful devolution across the whole UK cannot happen without a willingness to embrace radical and far reaching change.

“While the government has made progress with the devolution agenda, a more coherent and ambitious approach is needed if we are to tackle the constitutional challenge this country faces.”

National economic and services frameworks still needed

However, the report says that a fully federal model, similar to in Germany or Canada, would not work in the UK because of its small size and the fact that England would be much larger than the other component nations.

It says that the UK should allow for meaningful fiscal devolution but keep a single UK market and not devolve VAT and National Insurance, although it recommends devolving corporation tax to Northern Ireland and considering devolving it to Scotland and Wales.

Scotland recently agreed a new financial devolution deal with Westminster, allowing Scotland to announce reforms to council tax and social security.

The report also says that a greater variety in different services in different regions will be inevitable after greater devolution is granted, and says that the UK should keep consistent national standards and inspectorates such as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate.

Gordon Brown, former prime minister, told the devolution inquiry: “The social and economic rights of a British citizen are the right to free healthcare, the right to education, the right to help [for] the unemployed and disabled, and finally the right to a pension. These should be common rights across the whole of the UK.”

LGA join calls for more devolved powers

Lord Porter, chair of the Local Government Association (LGA), said: “Following the latest devolution deals announced in the Budget, this report takes the public debate on devolution forward and provides important guidance to help councils.

“To build desperately-needed homes, create jobs, provide the dignified care for our elderly and boost economic growth, all councils need greater freedom from central government to take decisions over vital services in their area.”

Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a string of devolution deals in last week’s Budget.

Cllr Nick Forbes, Labour’s leader in the LGA, said: “Councils have shown real ambition in their asks for devolved powers and it is disappointing that the government has limited what we can deliver.  Instead of empowering councils, the government is cutting our funding and holding us back.

“We saw during the floods this winter that the government’s approach of cuts and centralised control hurts our communities and damages local economies. The government’s rhetoric doesn’t match the reality on the ground, we need a much more serious approach to getting powers and funding out of Whitehall and into our communities."

Comments

Marianne Overton MBE   23/03/2016 at 09:05

The insistence on very large geographical areas with an elected mayor makes genuine devolution difficult. Although the Council leaders are involved in the new combined authorities, under a mayor, we have widespread rural communities who would feel disenfranchised when the political control is not inclusive and the distances and disparities are very great. If we must have a directly elected mayor with a party political cabinet, then it needs to be politically inclusive and over a smaller area that 3-5 rural counties.

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