Now is the time to push on with devolution and give back real control
August 02, 2016
The seismic shifts in economics and politics continue at pace with a new Prime Minister now in place to set the direction for government as we start the process of disengaging from the EU.
But leaving the EU is not simply an administrative process. There are much deeper changes in store, particularly around the source and nature of future economic growth. And the early indications are that the new Prime Minister is signalling a different tone – of inclusion driven by fundamental social and economic reform, not just nationally but locally too.
Indeed, there have been two speeches which have set out some of the future direction that the newly constituted Cabinet may take forward. At the LGA Conference, Greg Clark set out his views, calling for inclusion of all regions in the EU negotiations and stating his view that devolution “is now more important than ever", a sentiment already echoed by his predecessor, the new Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.
What was particularly interesting to me, however, was that the new Prime Minister also picked up this thread in her speech this week, setting out her vision of a “country that truly works for everyone.”
Her call for an economy where “everyone can share in the country’s wealth” is music to the ears of many of us who have, over the past few years, called for good, inclusive growth. Growth that delivers on those things that people most value in the work and money sides of their lives – a decent job and income, the supporting skills and health to work and affordable housing and transport to name just a few.
The EU referendum exposed divisions: young versus old; urban versus rural; affluent versus deprived and nations versus regions - prompting questions about our identity not just in relation to the EU, but in relation to our communities and one another too.
This is a theme that resonates with Theresa May’s observation that the vote to leave “was also a vote for serious change.” Her call for “deep economic reform” to improve productivity was allied to a desire to create “a plan to help not one or even two of our great regional cities but every single one of them.”
So now is the time for local government across the country to step forward and offer their plans. And in particular show how to maintain growth and deliver economic rebalancing while ensuring that the dividends of growth in their local areas benefits all, not just a lucky few. The new Mayor of London is just one of many seeking a more ambitious push for further devolution in the aftermath of the EU referendum result, giving City Hall and the boroughs significantly more control over taxes raised in the capital and how public services are run.
There is an important role for business too - they must work together with the public sector to help create success in a region. Because good growth comes with investor commitment and confidence, where there is access to innovation and technology and where the fiscal environment is stable. Devolution must consider how to make a place an environment that is attractive to do business in, and with Greg Clark moving to a role leading the government's agenda on business and industry, we should have high hopes in ensuring that the needs of citizen, state and enterprise are accounted for.
Devolution really can deliver good, inclusive growth, but only if devolving power, resource and accountability results in a real impact on the day to day aspiration, experience and engagement of citizens and communities.
I will be exploring this through a series of citizen’s juries in the autumn, where we will discuss devolution in a Brexit world with members of the public. And through our involvement with the RSA’s Commission on Inclusive Growth.
For now, we must reflect on the early signals from a new Prime Minister who has opened the door to our cities and regions. Local leaders – from business as much as the public sector - need to come together across a region and create the foundations for a new deal with individuals and communities so that they really see the benefits of good growth for all.