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Today Jim McMahon published his first LGC column since becoming Oldham West and Royton MP last December and shadow minister for local government and devolution in October.
It is almost a year since Mr McMahon entered Parliament and he uses his column to take stock of the devolution agenda over that time. A councillor for 13 years previously, and the former leader of Oldham MBC, Mr McMahon is a believer in decentralisation and reaffirms this in his article.
Decentralisation is particularly important in the context of Brexit, Mr McMahon argues.
“People want and need a stake and a say in the way their society is organised. Too many people feel that they lack that voice,” he says. “Our centralist settlement currently leaves them feeling powerless.”
Mr McMahon even goes so far as to say that devolution is “a distinct Labour ambition” because, if it is done in the right way, it transfers power from the privileged to the many.
However, Mr McMahon does not wholeheartedly support the George Osborne model of devolution, dependent on an area accepting a directly elected mayor; rather, he says the real test of the strength of a devolution bid should be an area’s ability to put “grassroots community organisation at the heart of decision-making”.
Despite the new crop of combined authorities, and the current communities secretary Sajid Javid’s apparent keenness on Buckinghamshire CC’s county-unitary proposal, Mr McMahon isn’t all that enamoured with restructuring or reorganisation. “Rather than starting with new structures when it comes to devolution, it is far better that we build on the established and proven building blocks of local government,” he writes.
Mr McMahon makes clear that his priority is devolving power from the centre down to residents, rather than focusing on reworking the structures operating above them, creating new quasi-tiers of government or putting one person ‘in charge’ of whole city regions.
From a local government professional’s perspective, this may seem like a softer transfer of power. But to the man in the street, from whom we are constantly reminded the process of devolution seems remote, Mr McMahon’s ideas may seem more appealing.