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Devo-max is not just about Scotland

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The Scottish vote requires devo-max at speed. In the rush we must avoid two mistakes. First, this is not just about Scotland; all citizens want change.

Nor is it about nationalism; it is a rejection of Westminster. The answer is not centralism within a smaller nation, but spreading power within nations to places with which people identify.

The Institute for Public Policy Research’s recent survey shows this. More people identify with their area than with Britain. To reflect this in government, 30% wanted an English parliament, 28% sub-national government. Over-60s prefer England; young voters want cities, or regions.

The economic case for devo-max to cities supports the identity argument. London’s economy is larger than Denmark and Sweden combined. If it is safe in Scotland, it is safe in London.

Failing to devolve beyond Scotland could trigger similar rejection of Westminster throughout the UK. But it is cities and regions that must describe their ambition and this must now be more than local government plus.

London and other cities have set out the new equation. Devolving welfare to work, letting cities shape skills for their economies, ensuring financial and planning autonomy to deliver homes, and promoting the integration of health and care are more successful when no longer national. These tasks should be supported by fiscal devolution, which will lock in local responsibility and deliver better value for money.

The challenge for city leaders is to construct governance and delivery platforms that enhance transparency and accountability. Solutions will vary; they should. Cities should be allowed to advance at their own speed, not the speed of the slowest.

There will also be common factors. Unified delivery platforms backed by statute; often combined authorities. Governance must ensure collaboration across economic areas. Citizens must have greater clarity on who is responsible for success in their city. 

In London, the growth deal process has helped strengthen the partnership between mayor and boroughs on the local enterprise partnership, Homes for London Board and elsewhere. The 32 boroughs have enhanced their collaboration through non-statutory multi-borough partnerships. Statutory underpinning may be the next step.

It is time for each city to forge its unique path to devo-max.

Dick Sorabji, corporate director for policy and public affairs, London Councils



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