Devolution will happen; it’s on the agenda, and there is a good deal of cross-party support for it. Although I have reservations about some aspects and details of the government’s proposals, the direction of travel is essentially right.
we need a dialogue and debate about two important issues.
first is the importance of codifying the powers of local government and its
relationship with the centre. Currently, there is a real danger that some
powers and aspects of policy will be devolved to local councils, but that other
powers will be removed from local councils, and more controls introduced in
instance, at the same time that parliament is considering The Cities and Local
Government Devolution Bill, it is also considering a Housing and Planning Bill
which expropriates a large number of planning issues from local decision-making
and gives them to Whitehall.
the last parliament, the government portrayed the stand-alone housing revenue
accounts as a major mechanism of decentralisation—a means of devolving power to
local councils—but has now announced measures about rent-setting and
determination which reverse devolution and move back to a centrist approach.
point is that we need a time of reflection, with a discussion between Government,
local government and this House about the framework for the constitutional
relationships between the centre and local authorities of whatever kind,
including combined authorities, so that we can look at the balance of powers
and perhaps put down some markers or mechanisms for ensuring that the
devolution we all support today is not taken back tomorrow. We need something
of that kind. A constitutional convention has been mentioned—the Government may
not like those words, but we need some mechanism to enable that to happen.
second concern is about fiscal devolution. Last year, the Select Committee I
chair produced a report on an all-party basis. It was overwhelmingly supported
by the London Finance Commission, the Mayor of London and London boroughs, and
the core cities. But it was dismissed by the government as something that it
didn’t want to pursue.
the government is now pursuing the total localisation of business rates, but
proposes to retain council tax capping and control by referendum. No other tax
requires a referendum on any increase. I no more agree with this policy now
than previously. Further, it is ludicrous that there has been no revaluation
for council tax purposes for 25 years. And the government is simply refusing to
consider any localisation of stamp duty or other property taxes or of income
need a serious look at wider fiscal devolution. Ultimately, simply giving to
local councils the power to spend money that has been handed out from the
centre is not real devolution at all.
Note: This is a summary of some contributions I made to the debate
on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. You can read more at: