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Devolution in the West of England

Pictured L-R: Cllr Richard Tucker (North Somerset), Cllr Helen Holland (Bristol City), Cllr Pat Rooney (South Gloucestershire), Cllr John Bull (Bath & North East Somerset).
 
 
28 November 2014
 
Devolution in the West of England: A joint statement by the Labour Group Leaders on the four West of England authorities
 
The West of England is a fantastic place to live and to work, and has great potential in the future, so it is essential that its four local authorities do not miss out compared to other parts of the country in the current debate about decentralisation and devolution. We therefore strongly welcome the statement made by Ed Balls this week that under a Labour government our area would not be short-changed with “a lesser package of devolution”, and his stating so clearly that the current government would be wrong to impose particular governance arrangements, such as a Metro Mayor.
 
We are committed to looking favourably on any proposals that pass the tests of democracy, accountability and scrutiny. The offer to localities must be bold. Central Government needs to offer far greater control of local finances to local authorities, including the further localising of business rates. True devolution should be about all local services and how to bring them closer to the people they are created for and how to resource them adequately.
 
Local government has a long and proud history in our country of providing services and a sense of identity to local communities. This needs to be preserved and strengthened. The Labour promise to “radically devolve power and £30 billion of funding” is just what we need.
 
Co-operation is in our blood as Labour representatives. Our councils have already proved that they can work constructively within our existing structures, and we are interested to know how a ‘combined authority’ would differ from the existing Strategic Leaders Board comprising the Mayor and the Leaders of the three other West of England councils. Central government also needs to take steps to make it easier for councils to work together. We must learn from the problems created by the Government’s Local Plan process, which places our councils at different stages of adoption and review at any one time. This is clearly absurd and not the fault of the four councils.
 
Devolution and co-operation should extend beyond the current range of local council services. We would like to see decision-making powers over skills and local bus and rail services delegated to a more local level, and better co-ordination and partnership across the range of public services, including health and policing. Whatever shape a combined authority may take, it needs to engage with and listen to those it seeks to serve.
 
Decisions that affect our area and its people must be open, accountable and subject to proper scrutiny. We therefore welcome Labour’s commitment to strengthen the existing partnerships between local councils and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), as the LEP is responsible for allocating millions of pounds worth of public money. This strengthening ought to include a greater role for partners other than business, such as the Trades Unions and the Third Sector. We would also want the Scrutiny Committee for the West of England to be given more clout, as it currently meets too infrequently and is insufficiently resourced to scrutinise fully the decisions being made and the money being spent.
 
We are united in our opposition to a ‘Metro Mayor’ for the West of England. Our area is too diverse, with two historic cities, old market towns, seaside resorts, rural areas and brand new towns for this model to be appropriate here. Power and decisions need to be brought closer to people and their own localities rather than concentrated in the hands of one individual. There is no public appetite for yet another layer of government and more elections. We are pleased that Labour nationally has recognised that it would be wrong of central government to impose this model on us in the West of England.
 
Councillor John Bull, Labour Group Leader, Bath and North East Somerset Council
 
Councillor Helen Holland, Labour Group Leader, Bristol City Council
 
Councillor Pat Rooney, Labour Group Leader, South Gloucestershire Council
 
Councillor Richard Tucker, Labour Group Leader, North Somerset Council
 
NOTE – The statement by Ed Balls on devolving economic power and funding is online at 
 
 
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