ECONOMIC GROWTH

Devolution for all: Gove unveils long-awaited White Paper

By 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal, the Government’s long-awaited levelling up White Paper has promised.

By 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal, the Government's long-awaited levelling up White Paper has promised.

Under the economic blueprint, there will be nine county deals, two new combined authorities and a host of new powers for existing metro mayors in England.

The Government has also pledged a ‘simplified, long-term funding settlement' for devolution while the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be decentralised across the whole of the UK.

In existing mayoral areas, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands will become ‘trailblazers' with extended powers, providing a blueprint for others to follow.

The North East Combined Authority is also due to expand.  

Announcing his plans, levelling up secretary Michael Gove claimed the UK economy had been ‘like a jet firing on only one engine'.

He said: ‘This White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

‘This will not be an easy task and it won't happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.'

While welcoming the ‘ambition' set out in the White Paper, Solace president Joanne Roney warned: ‘levelling up will never happen if local government is not provided with the sufficiency, certainty and flexibility over the finances it receives'.

The first nine county deal areas will be:

  • Cornwall
  • Derbyshire and Derby
  • Devon, Plymouth and Torbay
  • Durham
  • Hull and East Yorkshire
  • Leicestershire
  • Nortfolk
  • Nottinghamshire and Nottingham
  • Suffolk

Durham CC leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood said: ‘The last two years have been a challenge for everyone, but with more local control over economic regeneration, housing, infrastructure and resources, we can look to the future with confidence and optimism.'

There will also be a new mayoral combined authority deal for York and North Yorkshire after the county became a unitary, when it was a pre-requisite of devolution.

Chairman of the County Councils Network, Cllr Tim Oliver, said: ‘It is essential that every county in England has the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal, and the levelling-up levers they include, before the end of this Parliament.'

He also staked a claim for funding on a par with metro mayors for counties.

Cllr Oliver added: ‘Many of our member councils are yet to be convinced that adopting a directly elected mayor model provides any greater degree of accountability or stability compared to the existing leader and cabinet model.'

Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, chair of the District Councils Network described the paper as a ‘missed opportunity'.

He added: ‘We're pleased that the Government has confirmed there will be no top-down reorganisation of local government. But the proposals for County Deals have really missed a trick and have the potential to cause unnecessary tension.'

As well as its devolution plans, the White Paper details proposals to increase education and skills attainment, boost research and development, improve transport and broadband, and improve pay and employment.

The Government's cross-departmental plan also promised to increase life expectancy and wellbeing, boost pride in place, increase home ownership and tackle crime.

Leaders of urban centres greeted the White Paper with caution. Core Cities said the Government had taken a ‘centralist approach' with ‘regional directors and mandated national targets'.

UK Key Cities chair, Cllr John Merry, also voiced fears the national data strategy could ‘become another stick to beat local authorities on centralised performance targets'.

Questions also remain over a lack of new funding in the paper.

Centre for Progressive Policy' co-director Zoe Billingham said: ‘Without fresh funding in the next Budget, local leaders will lack the fiscal firepower to deliver on the Government's good intentions.'

Its 12 ‘missions' that the Government has pledged to meet by 2030 are:

  1. Raising pay, employment and productivity in every area, each containing a globally competitive city
  2. Increasing investment in research and development outside the south-east by at least 40%
  3. Raising transport connectivity across the country to the standard of London
  4. Creating nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G for the majority of the population
  5. Increasing reading, writing and maths standards of primary school children
  6. Significantly increasing skills training in every part of the UK
  7. Lowering the gap in healthy life expectancy between local areas
  8. Improving wellbeing in every area of the UK
  9. Increasing pride in place, including satisfaction with town centres and community engagement
  10. Increasing first-time home buyers and cutting non-decent rented homes by 50%
  11. Cutting homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime
  12. Giving every area that wants one a devolution deal, with powers approaching the highest level and a simplified, long-term funding settlement

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock

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