It’s time we valued our Regions as well as our Nations

20th February, 2013 4:03 pm

By Tim Roca

With devolution half complete the UK remains one of the most centralised countries in the world. London dominates in ways few other capital cities do.

England is one of the only parts of the European Union without some form of regional democracy. Less than 30% of public expenditure is spent by local government, much less than in Germany, Spain or Canada. Regional disparity abounds. The coalition’s policies are hitting Northern England hard, with over a million working families slammed by the changes to tax credits. The South West has some of the worst areas of fuel poverty, and cuts are disproportionately hammering regions outside of the South east.

Hilary Benn has called for an “English deal”, giving local authorities back powers taken by Whitehall. Maria Eagle has set out plans for transport authorities to have greater powers and financial muscle. This is good, but Labour must be bolder. Being radical and taking power from Whitehall to create strong regional government.

It’s been ten years since the failed referendum on a regional assembly in the North East. Since then devolution in Wales, Scotland and London has proven successful. Redistributing powers to regional government would allow choices to reflect regional priorities, drawing on local knowledge, and with the scale to make the big decisions needed on transport, and infrastructure. A strong dose of democracy, accountability and big picture planning could replace the plethora of Strategic Health Authorities, Local Government Leaders Boards, Local Enterprise Partnerships, and so on, which make decisions in a sort of policy vacuum. From housing, to reformed regional police forces, the potential benefits of regional government are huge.

English regional government would be good for the UK to. The regions need to be a success if the country as a whole is to prosper. As Rachel Reeves has pointed out regional growth “is not an optional extra, it is essential if we are to see the whole of Britain grow.” Research for the BBC shows that the best potential for economic growth is in the regions. The North East, and Yorkshire and Humber in particular, were found to have the highest proportion of fast-growing, export-focused companies. Regional decision making is the best way of unlocking that growth.

One of the main arguments deployed by the SNP for independence is the damage caused by Westminster Tory Governments. But dislike of Whitehall government can be heard just as strongly in Plymouth and Peterlee as in Stirling or Swansea. Regional government would create a strong federal United Kingdom.

Finally regional government could be good for Labour. Regional government would allow Labour to mitigate some of the worst decisions of any future Tory government. The Scottish Government used its autonomy to delay the worst of Osborne’s self defeating cuts. Had Labour controlled regions had the same flexibility then perhaps the UK wouldn’t have seen the collapse in confidence it did.

The level of devolved power regions should receive is open to debate. However the regions could be the foundations of a one nation Labour government, rebalancing the economy and redistributing power from the centre. Regional government would mean a stronger, more united Britain and would have the added benefit of creating Labour regional and devolved administrations that could make the right choices for their communities.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • and what did Labour do when over 50,000 signatures calling for a Cornish Assembly were presented to them in 2001? Threw them in the bin, that’s what.

  • MrSauce

    Excellent.
    A new tier of politicians (probably populated by failures at the National level): that will sort out our public finances and make Britain economically competitive.
    Bravo! Perhaps we could follow that super-successful model of Spanish regional autonomy.
    Oh, hang on a minute…

    • Redshift1

      Well you could abolish county councils whilst you’re at it, so in many places, it wouldn’t be an extra layer but a less confusing, more appropriate layer. In many unitary council areas like Greater Manchester, it’d improve coordination of things like transport.

      Nearly everyone in Europe has regional government. Even the traditionally very centralised French model is broken up more than ours.

  • The simple solution is devolve to an English parliament in Birmingham or Manchester. Have London as the British parliament. Move all government departments out of London and only have the PM’s office in London.

    The US, Australia and Canada all have their capital as a city that is not their largest city and also at a suitable distance from their financial sector. This separation serves to keep a suitable distance between bankers and politicians and also serves to broaden the reach of the nations representation (although in all these examples they could do with increasing it somewhat).

  • MonkeyBot5000

    One way to address the amount of spending that is done through central rather than local government is to get away from this idea of a mansion tax and add more bands to the council tax system.

    The council tax bands haven’t been changed since before the housing boom and we only have bands A-H to cover the whole range of property values. If we added I, J & K bands etc, we could better represent current property values and get more money to local councils to spend on services.

    Unfortunately, that wouldn’t involve any more jobs for politicians and the money wouldn’t be under the control of the Treasury.

  • Cobbett

    I’m not convinced that any semi-autonomous regional governments would be more efficient. Each region would still require the plethora of different local policy, commissioning and administrative organisations and the legislative and logistical relationship between those boards and the national government would add more bureaucracy, inconsistency and confusion.

Latest

  • Comment Featured What’s going on with the anti-Corbyn plot?

    What’s going on with the anti-Corbyn plot?

    “You up? Call me, I have a big story for you.” That was the text I received just after one o’clock this morning. Within minutes, it was public that Hilary Benn had been sacked as Shadow Foreign Secretary. That began a chain of events that, since Heidi Alexander’s resignation just after 8am, have moved at some breakneck speed. At the time of writing, eight Shadow Cabinet minister have gone: Hilary Benn, Heidi Alexander, Ian Murray, Seema Malhotra, Kerry McCarthy, Lilian Greenwood, […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News LIVEBLOG: shadow cabinet resignations

    LIVEBLOG: shadow cabinet resignations

    Rumours are swirling that half of the shadow cabinet could be expected to resign today, after Hilary Benn was last night sacked from the Shadow Cabinet. Corbyn’s decision to sack the Shadow Foreign Secretary came after it was reported Benn was talking to his colleagues about removing Jeremy Corbyn after the EU referendum result We’ll be bringing you all the shadow cabinet news as it comes through today. 17.53: Who’s gone so far: Vernon Coaker – Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Lucy […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Labour is facing “political oblivion” with Corbyn as leader – Labour MPs circulate anti-Corbyn letter to colleagues

    Labour is facing “political oblivion” with Corbyn as leader – Labour MPs circulate anti-Corbyn letter to colleagues

    Margaret Hodge, former minister, and Ann Coffey, MP for Stockport, have said that Labour is looking at “political oblivion” with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, in a letter that has been circulated around the Parliamentary Party. The two Labour MPs submitted a motion of no confidence against Corbyn after they said he didn’t give a clear enough message on the EU referendum. They have hit out at the leader again in a letter (below) and said that Corbyn is “standing in […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News John McDonnell: we have a responsibility to the country, not to party squabbles – Corbyn is going nowhere

    John McDonnell: we have a responsibility to the country, not to party squabbles – Corbyn is going nowhere

    Amid two shadow cabinet resignations, John McDonnell has said Labour have a responsibility to the country, not to party squabbles. He has added that Jeremy Corbyn is going nowhere. McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor and Corbyn ally, has been doing the rounds this morning, in an effort to pour water on attempts to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Late last night Jeremy Corbyn sacked Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary after rumours that Benn was contacting fellow MPs […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Heidi Alexander quits Shadow Cabinet over Corbyn leadership

    Heidi Alexander quits Shadow Cabinet over Corbyn leadership

    Heidi Alexander has quit her role as Shadow Health Secretary this morning, saying she has lost confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to lead the party. Alexander’s resignation follows Hilary Benn’s sacking late last night, after it transpired the Shadow Foreign Secretary had spoken to frontbench colleagues about asking Corbyn to step down as leader. More Shadow Cabinet members are expected to resign in frustration at Corbyn’s leadership today. You can keep up to date with all the latest on our liveblog. […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit