Making progress on devolution

Away from COVID-19, the future of the Union and devolution within it made some news headlines recently, with new polling showing increased support for Scottish independence and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown setting out his thoughts on the issues. 

Devolution within England – and, specifically, to councils – will be a vital part of this debate in the coming months, and you can expect to read more about this in future editions of first.

Last month, I gave evidence to the Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee as part of its inquiry into progress on devolution in England. 

Alongside LGA President Lord Kerslake, and former Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clark MP, I made the case that centralised design and control of public services from Whitehall does not work as well as an approach that enables councils to innovate and create services that are tailored to their communities and localities. 

I emphasised the need for devolution to form a central part of the national recovery strategy, and the importance of long-term, flexible funding – as opposed to complex bidding processes for short-term grants. 

Devolution also figures strongly in the LGA’s submission on behalf of local government to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, ahead of the Budget on 3 March.

Our submission makes the case that, with sustainable funding and appropriate devolved powers, councils will be able to support residents through the challenges of the pandemic, and deliver on government and local priorities for communities and economic recovery.

The pandemic has highlighted how public service decisions taken closest to the people they affect improve outcomes and protect lives. Equally, the path to future prosperity cannot be planned from the centre. 

Our international competitors have long been able to demonstrate the positive impact greater devolution has had on accountability, financial efficiency and growth. 

As we look towards the long process of economic and social recovery, this gap in local power and autonomy across England needs to be addressed if we are to keep pace on the global stage.

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