England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

We need real localism, not technocratic tinkering

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Jonathan Carr-West, LGiU Chief Executive, responds to the result of the Scottish independence referendum:

Scotlands decision to stay in the Union and the additional devolution it has been promised will see a renewed focus on local governance in the rest of the UK. People will ask themselves why it is appropriate for Edinburgh to have greater control over taxation and spending in Scotland and not for English cities and regions to have the same.

That is a reasonable question. It is important, however, that our response is not to rush to ill-thought-out structural change.

We are certain to hear a lot of talk about English parliaments and regional assemblies over the next few weeks, but the recent history of proposed constitutional change: AV, elected mayors, regional assemblies, does not suggest that it’s what people want.

Instead we need to focus on the democratic structures we already have in place across the rest of the UK. As LGiU have argued in Connected LocalismMunicipal Futures, and elsewhere, we need to give real power to local institutions and to local communities. To make people feel that they have real and direct influence over the places they live in and the services they use.

That means an urgent debate about increased tax-raising powers for English and Welsh councils. Varying business rates, local tourism taxes, environmental taxes and variation to the top and bottom rate of income tax all need to be on the table.

We need to look at combined budgets for all public spending in an area, including health, and making sure that budget is managed by democratically elected local representatives.

Where councils need to come together at regional or sub-regional level to address particular issues they should have the freedom to so, but they need the flexibility to do this in ways that respond to need not driven by a one-size-fits-all structural solution from the centre.

This is the sort of devolution, moving at different speeds and in different ways in different parts of the country, but connected where necessary, that will give people a real sense of control over the places they live in and the services they use.