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Counties and districts warn of 'democratic deficit' in Osborne devolution plans

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County and district councils have protested that the government’s devolution initiative is too narrowly focused on major cities and risks creating a ‘democratic deficit’ in shire areas.

In a joint statement, County Councils Network chair David Hodge (Con) and District Councils’ Network chair Neil Clarke (Con) made clear their dismay that their areas could lose out over devolved powers.

They said: “We remain concerned…that the devolution focus, including the incoming government’s manifesto, may remain too narrowly focused on city regions and a one-size-fits all approach to English devolution.

“It is our strong belief that this will only hinder the government in achieving its core aims of securing economic recovery, reducing the deficit and reforming public services.”

David Hodge

David Hodge

In a speech this afternoon chancellor George Osborne said the Treasury would be prepared to agree ‘city deals’ with towns and counties, but not to devolve widespread powers.

Despite past disputes between counties and districts over their roles, Cllrs Hodge and Clarke said they wanted to “set out explicitly our commitment to working together to deliver an English devolution settlement in two-tier areas”.

“In return, we expect the government to put forward an agenda on English devolution which recognises that cities, counties and districts have an equal role to play in reforming our constitutional settlement and delivering real devolution.”

There was no need for all areas to progress at the same pace, they said, but “a narrow focus on empowering city areas would threaten to create a two-speed approach to local government and public sector reform…creating a democratic deficit for the millions of people”.

Their stance drew support from Local Government Information Unit chief executive Jonathan Carr-West, who said limiting devolution to city regions risked them, “sucking resources from neighbouring areas and talent from neighbouring councils”.

Neil Clarke

Neil Clarke

Local Government Association chair David Sparks (Lab) called on the government to “make sure that the benefits of devolution reach every corner of England and the United Kingdom”.

He said: “We are now urging government to go further and set out a new settlement for all of England which devolves decisions on important issues like skills, housing, transport, care and infrastructure. This is vital if the economy is to prosper and good quality public services are to survive.”

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