Giving more power and funding to local government will lead to some “failures” but Westminster should not let this stand in the way of devolution, a senior aide to London mayor Boris Johnson has said.
Sir Edward Lister, the mayor’s chief of staff and deputy mayor for policy and planning, made the remarks at a fringe event at the Conservative party conference this week.
Sir Edward, who was leader of Wandsworth LBC from 1992 to 2011, said that if there was greater devolution, “I’m afraid there are going to be failures and councils do fail – they fail today and will fail tomorrow.
“It means your vote in the ballot box becomes more important. I do think we should accept failure and deal with it through the ballot box which is the right and proper way.”
During the same event, Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-Upon-Avon and a member of prime minister David Cameron’s policy board, said he was concerned because “the challenge with devolving power down is that some areas will fail”.
He said: “As we devolve power and responsibility … What’s the stick that stops abuse and knee-jerk reactions?”
During the discussion, Mr Zahawi said that if the government were to devolve to cities, it should also devolve to county areas.
“If we don’t come up with something for counties, this simply looks like a city power grab,” he said. “If we hand authority for property taxes to cities, shouldn’t shire authorities get some powers to compete?”
Jim O’Neill, former chair of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, and chair of the independent city growth commission set up by the RSA thinktank, said at the event that he believed some areas should begin “early devolution” but others were “not sufficiently organised or accountable enough to deal with it too soon”.
He said “some say over property taxes” for Manchester and London seemed “sensible”, adding that other areas could receive such powers at a later date.