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Get organised if you want powers, districts told

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Local authorities will have to “come together” in order to get more control over the way money is spent in their areas, shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn has said.

As more details of Labour’s devolution plan emerge, Mr Benn indicated district councils working alone would struggle to wrestle control from Whitehall.

He told delegates at a fringe event at the party conference in Manchester that “rural Britain” needs “to get organised”.

“I’m very strongly in favour of county regions,” he said. “As I said yesterday, this [devolution] is an offer to everybody.

“Counties have been a bit slower to get organised but my encouragement to them would be… to create a body we can devolve power to.

“If we are going to commission the work programme we are not going to do that with an individual district council, so people have got to come together.”

Just before Mr Benn made his comments, shadow chancellor Ed Balls delivered his speech to conference during which he said: “Our economic plan will devolve power and resources not only to Scotland and Wales but to city and county regions in every part of England.”

This comes after shadow communities and local government minister Andy Sawford revealed letters had been sent to every local authority leader in England urging them to start preparing for devolution should the party win the general election in May.

Meanwhile, Mr Benn reiterated that the redistribution of funding would need to take place. He said that without this, “you’re saying to people: ‘Raise what you can, but then you’re on your own’ and I think that would then cement inequality rather than overcoming it.”

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