Osborne unveils City Devolution Bill

 

Chancellor George Osborne has unveiled plans for legislation today to help enshrine the devolution of powers, including transport controls, to major cities that agree to take on elected mayors.

Mr Osborne outlined plans for a City Devolution Bill legislation in the Queen's speech 'to enable a radical new model of city government' and held up Manchester as the blueprint for the new system.

The chancellor said:' Here’s the deal. We will hand power from the centre to cities to give you greater control over your local transport, housing, skills and healthcare. And we’ll give the levers you need to grow your local economy and make sure local people keep the rewards.

‘The old model of trying to run everything in our country from the centre is broken. It’s right people have a single point of accountability: someone they elect, who takes the decision and carries the can. So with these new powers for cities must come new city-wide elected mayors who work with local councils. I will not impose this model on anyone but nor will I settle for less.'

He also answered critics who had complained that devolution was too city-focused by stating: 'We’ll empower the towns and great counties of the north too, by extending a form of the City Deals programme we ran in the last parliament to cover counties and towns too.'

He went on to add that he wanted to extend these new opportunities across England, in the Midlands, East Anglia and the South West too.

Mr Osborne also revealed that renowned economist and chair of the City Growth Commission, Jim O’Neill, would be appointed commercial secretary to the Treasury to help drive through big infrastructure investments.

Prior to the election the Conservatives promised the Manchester city region £1bn of spending on transport, skills and other areas together with powers including responsibility over franchised bus services, with control over fares, routes, ticketing and service frequency.

Joint control of around £6bn of health and social carer spending was also pledged, with the Conservative manifesto promising to use legislation to enshrine the ‘historic’ deal.

In return the city and surrounding towns have opted for an elected metro-mayor, with an interim mayor to be chosen on 29 May and a city wide election scheduled for 2017.

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the think tank Local Government Information Unit, said: 'It is welcome news that the chancellor has committed to talks with cities on devolution. However, if he truly wants to revolutionise the way we govern England, the chancellor needs to ensure that his door is open to counties, districts and smaller cities as well. Looking at devolution deals in these areas in parallel with cities will allow for shared learning and shared progress rather than a potentially divisive focus.

'A ‘fast stream’ approach to devolution risks sucking resources from neighbouring areas and talent from neighbouring councils. To ensure the benefits of devolution can be felt across the country, the chancellor’s challenge now is to ensure he does not stick to too rigid a template. Wider devolution cannot work along a prescriptive combined authority and elected mayor model.'

Meanwhile the leaders of the Core Cities group - Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield - gathered in Westminster to make fresh calls on the government for further devolution.

The group has launched a ‘Devolution Declaration’ outlining proposals for a continuing programme of devolution of funding and powers.

In transport the group asked for: ‘Devolved and integrated long-term transport funds, with powers to deliver an improved, joined-up local transport offer, shaping local bus services, local rail policy and integrated smart ticketing.’

Prof Tony Travers of the London School of Economics and Political Science said: 'A new Government, as well as continued devolution to the UK’s nations, makes this a key time for city devolution agenda. The Core Cities have made a convincing argument to Westminster on devolution to cities, now is the time look in more detail at policy and what the cities can actually deliver for the UK.

'Despite progress, the UK is still one of the most centralised countries in the world. Fiscal control is incredibly limited and we must work with Westminster to change that.'

In an open letter to national politicians this week, Core Cities referenced independent forecasts that suggest greater freedoms for the eight English Core Cities alone could deliver £222bn extra and put 1.16m jobs into the economy by 2030.

 

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