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04.10.16

LGiU: Conservatives ‘have gone walkabout on devolution’

The government has been accused of having gone “walkabout” after failing to clarify its position on devolution so far at the Conservative Party Conference.

In keynote speeches yesterday Philip Hammond, the chancellor, and Sajid Javid, the communities and local government secretary, laid out a number of commitments, including guarantees for EU funding deals that are agreed when the UK leaves the EU and £5bn for new homes.

However, Lord Porter, chair of the LGA, said today that both measures do not go far enough and called on the government to guarantee all EU funding and grant councils more powers to build homes.

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), said the speeches gave a “statement of intention”, but not the “clear direction of travel” seen in George Osborne’s devolution commitment as chancellor.

“The Conservatives seem to have gone walkabout on devolution,” he said. “Theresa May’s government have maintained a gnomic silence on most of these issues.

“Central government needs to support councils in reforming and delivering local services and in giving people and communities the ability to help shape their local areas.”

The new government has been accused of being less committed to devolution than its predecessor, although May insisted the agenda will go ahead following rumours that she was considering abolishing the requirement for devolved areas to have elected mayors.

However, in a blog post yesterday, Carr-West said that Osborne’s announcement that he is establishing a Northern Powerhouse Partnership to preserve his legacy and the resignation of Lord O’Neill, the devolution minister, were “not positive signs”.

Javid has already withdrawn the North East Devolution deal after it was rejected by some of the North East Combined Authority member councils. But three local authorities – Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland – have indicated that they would be interested in seeking a smaller devolution deal on their own.

Devolution in Sheffield is also facing a legal challenge from Derbyshire county council.

Carr-West said: “Those places that already have deals will carry on, but in many parts of the country outside the major cities those deals are either hitting roadblocks or being quietly shelved. There’s a real risk that we end up with a semi-devolved country that entrenches gaps in growth and productivity.”

He called on Javid to “send a clear signal” about his intentions on devolution, adding: “The worst case scenario would be micromanagement within a strategic vacuum.”

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