Localism has to mean allowing communities to decide their own structures.
Localism has to mean allowing communities to decide their own structures
To the extent that opinion polls tell us anything, the latest IPSOS/MORI poll in Scotland tells us that our narrative around devolution needs to be credible. Conducted in the aftermath of Johann Lamont’s resignation, the poll suggests that Labour would chalk up a mere four Westminster MPs, to the SNPs fifty four.
It was against this backdrop that local and regional leaders in the rest of the United Kingdom received news of Ed Miliband’s commitment to reverse decades of centralisation, devolving powers to City and County regions, alongside a pledge that an incoming Labour government would establish an English Regional Cabinet Committee.
There was much to welcome in the speech – the ability to exercise more influence over public transport networks is long overdue, but will be of great value to local communities – Labour’s plan would allow combined authorities to apply a simple and swift procedure for getting greater control over local bus services – setting routes and fares, introducing smarter ticketing, and integrating those services with wider public transport and growth plans.
Even in forward-thinking authorities such as Blackpool, which retained a 100 per cent stake in Blackpool Transport Limited, this will short-circuit the current system of protracted negotiations between operators, which often achieves limited results.
Increased devolution of funding and powers in terms of skills, transport, housing and business support represents a practical adoption of many of the recommendations of the Adonis report, and demonstrates that the voices of key Leaders in Labour Local government have been heeded.
It seems churlish to point out that £30 billion represents only a fraction of those resources that could and should be delegated to communities – nonetheless, all eyes will be on other Shadow Cabinet members, in search of further announcements which buttress this commitment to real-life localism.
I don’t think anyone realistically expected an incoming Labour administration to radically alter the LEP structures, which work less well in some areas than others – there is general contentment that we appear to be placed much more firmly in charge of our own destiny – no compunction to accept elected mayors under Hilary Benn, by the sounds of things.
Localism has to mean allowing communities to decide their own structures. A change of emphasis and language from City regions to County regions is demonstrated – and again, I welcome this, but will continue to wave the wind and rain ravaged flag of the seaside (and other) unitary councils, which often get lost in the competition for parental attention between City Regions and County Councils.
Control of 100 per cent of business rate receipts is localism distilled. Socialism distilled will be coming up with a redistributive mechanism to ensure that small, poor authorities don’t lose out (Blackpool generates around £45 million a year in NNDR, but receives a redistributed sum of £66 million).
I look forward to the first meeting of the English Regional Cabinet Committee – which I am confident will have to be held in the Blackpool Tower ballroom, given the length of the list of invitees.
In summary, and in seriousness – a great start, which is welcomed by local government, and in time will be appreciated by local communities; but we need to keep that narrative fresh, ambitious and relevant – to make sure that on May 8 these are our decisions to take.
Simon Blackburn is leader of Blackpool Council
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