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22.09.14

LGA backs calls for a Constitutional Convention on devolution

Councils in England have joined Ed Miliband in calling for a Constitutional Convention to thrash out devolution across the UK, including to local authority level.

The calls for the convention come in the aftermath of Scotland electing to stay part of the UK in the independence referendum. While campaigning for the referendum vote, all three major Westminster parties pledged further devolution of powers to Scotland.

However this pledge has led to local authorities in the rest of the country calling for more power to be devolved to them as well. The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, wants the government to set “an urgent timetable” for devolution and has welcomed Ed Miliband’s plans to set up a Constitutional Convention on the issue.

LGA chair Cllr David Sparks said: “The Scottish referendum has clearly demonstrated that there is a real appetite for the devolution of powers from Westminster which does not stop at the border. The UK will not be content to settle for the status quo and the new powers that Scotland will now receive must be given to local areas in England and Wales.

“It is locally-elected councils – driving their local economies through devolved taxation and greater control over council tax and business rates – which can satisfy the desire of people in England to have greater say in the places they live and work.

“The clock is ticking and we need to act now. That is why we have called for an urgent meeting of a Constitutional Convention to speed up the process of English devolution.”

Miliband announced the convention on Friday, in response to David Cameron’s plan for only English MPs to vote on English issues in the House of Commons. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are opposed to excluding Scottish MPs altogether, saying it will create two tiers of MPs at Westminster.

The convention will be a form of semi-representative assembly going beyond elected MPs and including local councillors and ordinary citizens. It is expected to begin before the next election with a dialogue in every region in the country about how power needs to be dispersed in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Each region will produce a report outlining their recommendations on things such as how sub-national devolution can be strengthened; how the regions can be given more of a voice in our political system; and how we can give further voice to regional and national culture and identity.

This is to be followed in with a constitutional convention in autumn 2015 to determine the UK-wide implications of devolution and to bring these recommendations together.

It will discuss the shape and extent of English devolution and what reforms are needed in Westminster, as well as the case for a regionally representative Senate or for codifying the constitution.

Miliband said: "We need a response that matches the scale of this moment. That starts with delivering on our promise of further powers to Scotland.

"But other people in Britain, including England, now deserve the chance to shape their own futures with a dynamic devolution settlement.

"This must not be led just by a Westminster elite but be open to every citizen so that they can have their say."

The LGA is in favour of the convention but would like a say in its agenda. It has come up with a list of issues that it believes should be included in the debate. These include the policy and delivery of public services which should be taken at the national, regional, sub-regional and local area; the consequent governance for those decisions; devolution of funding and decisions on transport, skills and economic development to English cities and counties; greater local decision-making about health and care devolved to those places; and devolution of an appropriate share of the tax base to pay for those things.

Cllr Sparks said: “We welcome the Labour Party's decision to set up a Constitutional Convention. We are keen to make sure that local government plays a positive role in taking this forward.

“We all have an historic opportunity between now and the next general election to launch a new start for a refreshed and reinvigorated Union, with a healthier political culture made possible by bringing power closer to the people on whose behalf it is exercised. We believe that this will renew politics and trust in politicians.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

I.Marcher   22/09/2014 at 13:33

I was very surprised to read in the article that "The UK will not be content to settle for the status quo and the new powers that Scotland will now receive must be given to local areas in England ... " This sound suspiciously like abolishing England by partition into so-called 'regions'. Over the years since devolution, there have been many many public opinion polls which have indicated that the people of England want devolution to England as a whole with the establishment of some sort of forum for England, including the re-establishment of the English Parliament. The only area outside London where 'regionalisation' was put to the vote, the north-east, it was overwhelmingly rejected.

James Matthews   22/09/2014 at 15:02

Conflating local government reform with the national issues which arise from devolution to Scotland and Wales is not helpful to either. Local government reform should stand (or fall) on its own. It is neither credible nor desirable that either existing or new local government authorities in England should enjoy powers equal to the national government of Scotland (except to those who deliberately wish to destroy England as an entity). The West Lothian Question must first be answered properly and that means an English Parliament (which should be the body to decide on devolution within England).

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