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No mayor, no devolution, says Osborne

George Osborne has invited more cities to bid for devolved powers but has insisted they must come with a directly elected mayor.

The powers on offer to combined authorities with an elected mayor will cover transport, housing, planning, policing and public health.

The chancellor will also announce that the Queen’s Speech will include powers to deliver Greater Manchester’s first mayor and devolution package through the Cities Devolution Bill.

Speaking in Manchester yesterday, Osborne said: “The old model of trying to run everything in our country from the centre of London is broken. It’s led to an unbalanced economy. It’s made people feel remote from the decisions that affect their lives. It’s not good for our prosperity or our democracy.”

The insistence on a mayor to come with the powers is a tough pill to swallow for many authorities. Sheffield and Leeds were able to secure deals without having to agree to a mayor in the last Parliament, but the powers they received paled in comparison to those offered to Greater Manchester.

Osborne said: “It’s right people have a single point of accountability. Someone they elect, who takes the decisions and carries the can.

“So with these new powers for cities must come new city-wide elected mayors who work with local councils. I will not impose this model on anyone. But nor will I settle for less.

“London has a mayor. Greater Manchester has agreed to have a mayor as part of our northern powerhouse – and this new law will make that happen.

“My door now is open to any other major city who‎ wants to take this bold step into the future.”

The LGA welcomed news of the cities devolution bill but stressed it wanted the benefits of devolution to be felt in “every corner” of England.

Cllr David Sparks, chair of the LGA, said: "This will require different approaches to both governance and the powers needed for different areas, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution.

"There is compelling evidence that making decisions at a more local level will bring about huge economic and social benefits including reducing youth unemployment by half, creating 500,000 homes and helping people to live independently at home longer, saving almost £4bn alone.

"But all parts of the country, from city regions to non-metropolitan areas, need greater freedom from Whitehall.

"We are now urging government to go further and set out a new settlement for all of England which devolves decisions on important issues like skills, housing, transport, care and infrastructure. This is vital if the economy is to prosper and good quality public services are to survive."

The announcement of the new bill comes on the same day the Core Cities Group called for the government to devolve powers to local areas to ensure a “radical modernisation” of the UK.

The group launched the ‘Modern Charter for Local Freedom’ which highlighted independent forecasts that show greater freedoms for the eight core cities in England alone could deliver a £222bn boost to the economy and create 1.16 million jobs by 2030.

It called for legislation in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech that differs to Osborne’s bill, as it would allow for devolution to cities that would also allow different governance structures in different parts of the country.

(Picture by: Christopher Furlong / PA Wire)

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