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Northern leaders call for further devolution from ‘out of touch’ Whitehall

A number of northern council CEOs and senior councillors have united in calling for more powers to be devolved to northern councils to maximise the economic benefits of the Northern Powerhouse plan and give control to local authorities to determine their own budgets.

The message came from council CEOs sitting on a panel at the Northern Powerhouse conference about the impact that Brexit is likely to have on the progress of the Northern Powerhouse.

Before the panel began their discussion, former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake, who published a report last week appealing for power to be transferred from Whitehall, once again emphasised that further devolution, and in particular fiscal devolution, was essential to local councils improving in the future. 

He said: “We should not let the recent setbacks on devolution deals in some parts of the north be allowed to stall its progress. As former head of the civil service, I am absolutely convinced that we must see a major shift in power and decision-making away from Whitehall.”

This view was also shared by Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council and executive member for economy and culture, just a week after the authority penned a letter to Sajid Javid demanding clarity over their stalled devolution deal.

Cllr Blake went on to say: “One of the most important factors for me in unlocking the potential of the north is further devolution.

“From listening to what people from my region and what the rest of the country have told us it is that they have had enough with the out of touch administration in Whitehall.

“Before we can use the appetite of the people to get more control locally, we need to use that to fuel the debate with government to get more real fiscal devolution and then frame that in a northern context.”

Cllr Blake also voiced concern that northern councils could be “denied a seat” at the table in terms of a conversation about Brexit, and that councils could be worse off as funds that are made available to compensate for the loss of EU funding would be filtered back through an “unfair” Whitehall system.

Pat Richie, chief executive of Newcastle Upon Tyne City Council, echoed this sentiment further by saying: “Part of tackling the uncertainty posed by Brexit is to make decisions more at a local level based on local economies, and that has to be linked to devolution.

“If we can get much closer to home decisions about investment, we can respond quicker to risk and can be more agile as we understand our own economies. Part of the response to Brexit uncertainty needs to be devolution.”

The chair for the Tees Valley Combined Authority David Budd, who is also the mayor of Middlesbrough, also made the argument for further devolution, saying: “The Northern Powerhouse and devolution are hand in hand – you cannot have one without the other.

“There’s an economic and a political argument for devolution that were both ignored, but there is also an emotional argument – do you want decisions to be made 250 miles away or right here?”

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