Devolving powers to metropolitan regions alone does not go far enough and they should be handed to “all corners of England”, according to the Local Government Association.
Ahead of the city devolution bill, due to be included in next week’s Queen’s Speech, the LGA has produced a white paper on devolution which has suggested using peer reviews involving figures from local and central government to “judge an area’s preparedness for devolution” and supported calls for “radical” local government finance reform.
Last week, chancellor George Osborne announced he would be willing to “transfer major powers” over transport, skills, housing, policing, and health and social care “only to those cities who choose to have a directly elected metro-wide mayor”. Mr Osborne stopped short of offering the same deal to counties and towns, though, and instead proposed an extension to the city deals programme.
In an interview with LGC, communities secretary Greg Clark said he intended to “have a big push to decentralise powers, certainly to the cities but to places outside cities as well”.
The LGA’s report said: “To make sure that the benefits of devolution reach every corner of England, this should be made an ‘English Devolution Bill’ that offers devolution to all places that can demonstrate appropriate scale and governance in a form that is right for their area.”
It also argued for a fairer funding settlement for councils, including multi-year settlements, as well as freedoms to set council tax, retain “100% of business rates and business rates growth, and a “relaxation of the rules on fees and charges” so they can better raise additional revenue.
The Independent Commission on Local Government Finance’s call to gradually devolve powers, funding and taxation to ‘sub-national’ bodies over a period of time offered “a prudent way forward”, the report said.
David Sparks (Lab), chair of the LGA, said: “Local government’s offer to the new government is simple; give local communities the freedom and powers to play their full role in economic and social prosperity.
“This would improve the outcomes for local people, families and communities, maximise the value for money of public spending and strengthen democratic accountability for public services.
“We are certain that by working together, we can provide the foundations on which the country’s success can be built.”
Cllr Sparks said devolution was “the most effective way to create jobs, build homes, strengthen healthy communities and protect the vulnerable”.
He said: “If we are to rebalance our economy ultimately all places, from our great cities to the powerful engines of our economy in non-metropolitan areas, need greater freedom from Whitehall.”