A new report has called for ‘small town England’ to be given new devolved powers over transport and other issues to help it deliver the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
The report, The Making of an Industrial Strategy: Taking back control locally, by think tank Localis argues that the Government must broaden its focus to those parts of the country that are home to small and rural towns and which contain some of the structurally weakest local economies in England.
Writing in the foreword to the report, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy secretary Greg Clark called it an important contribution to efforts ‘to help us build a strong industrial strategy’.
He wrote: ‘Place will be an important feature of the industrial strategy, it will be a lens through which to make decisions and judge success. Local civic and business leaders will be central to ensuring the Government’s vision of a country sharing in the prosperity of growth.’
The report finds that two-thirds of England has no governance structure with the strength and capacity to help deliver the industrial strategy
It says these areas ‘deserve radical new powers’, including control over planning to help towns and cities expand, local transport, tax-setting policy, business incentives and labour market freedoms.
The report calls for the immediate establishment of 47 strategic authorities – incorporating existing combined authority areas – across England which would take ownership of a full suite of economic and fiscal powers, through an ‘industrial compact’ in ‘the biggest single domestic transfer of power since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament’.
A key recommendation is that in places where they do not already have such control, such as mayoral combined authorities, strategic authorities should be given regulatory control over their local transport networks.
‘This should include control of local bus services and local suburban rail services across their geographies, and in each case the strategic authority should act as the local transport authority.’
Under the ‘industrial compact’, strategic authorities would have duties to develop long-term transport strategies while regulatory control over local bus and suburban rail services would included integrated ticketing systems.
Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council, said: ‘I am delighted to see this Localis report published and welcome its focus on the importance of a locally-led industrial strategy.’