It is ironic a Government that has spent most of the pandemic trying to manage things from the centre has found time to time to develop a White Paper on devolution and recovery.
As The MJ has been reporting, the devolution White Paper is disappearing down the rabbit hole of local government reform.
Restructuring institutions like councils and Public Health England in the midst of a pandemic is not a great recipe for recovery. While on paper, services at scale look efficient, in practice, local democracy becomes less meaningful. And right now, lockdown has given us a new perspective on the importance of locality.
From a regional perspective, the White Paper will also reveal Boris Johnson’s ‘northern growth body’ – promised last November in Rotherham as part of his commitment to ‘levelling up’. But the signs are that this body is growing into something of a Frankenstein’s monster.
Like Shelley’s tragic hero, the Government is attempting to assemble the growth body from parts of the northern policy graveyard.
If we are to breathe new life into the North’s post-COVID-19 recovery, then even if it doesn’t look pretty, this new body must have a clear sense of purpose which goes beyond the crude generalisations of boosting economic productivity.
And progress should be measurable – based on a set of social and economic indicators.
But like the devolution efforts of the past, the growth body will have a fatal flaw – its creator is Whitehall. Therefore, it will be designed to work in the interests of the centre, rather than the regions.
The restructure we urgently require is not to be found in our town halls but in the baronies of Whitehall.
Sarah Longlands is director of IPPR North