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Inside Out: Now is the time to press for 'Devo Max' for local government

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It’s getting exciting on the fracturing of the United Kingdom front.

The polling suggests that the referendum on Scottish independence is difficult to call as it is so finely balanced.

Whatever the outcome, things will never be the same for all current UK citizens. It is also a once-in-a-generation chance to change the relationship between local and central government.

Many of the arguments put forward for independence have resonance with some of the frustrations we feel in local government about the interfering dominance of Westminster. There are party political aspects (eg no Conservatives left in Scotland), and issues about national identity, but most are about tax, spend and being told what to do by London.

An example of cross-border concern is that both Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage blame the “Westminster elite” for all our woes. Certainly most of the Westminster political leadership seem to have grown up in the bubble.

Senior civil servants also tend to come from a narrow section of society. Whatever their background, the culture of Westminster and Whitehall has left them wilfully blind to the shift that has taken place across the UK. People are simply fed up with Westminster/London/the political class/whatever you want to call it.

I’m with the masses on this one. We are not a bad council, and I am not particularly stroppy. But I can’t remember a meeting with a civil servant during which I haven’t been treated as the hired help, mostly with aplomb and subtlety – but clearly we are supposed to do as we are told. Pickles’ bins farrago is just the cherry on the cake. Everything from local enterprise partnerships to schools strategy doesn’t quite fit with us but we are stuck with it.

Westminster is losing its legitimacy and I don’t think it will get better after the election in 2015, whoever wins. I was very sad recently when young adults in a sixth form told me they would be deciding who to vote for in their first election based on who they hate the least rather than who they support the most.

But there is hope. Angela Eagle MP, speaking on behalf of Labour, said her party was working up radical devolution proposals for all the UK.

It is a sign the “Westminster elite” may have realised it is in their interests to promote radical reform. I hope so.

Now is the time the LGA should be pressing for ‘Devo Max’ for local government.

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The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…

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