Prime minister David Cameron has pledged greater devolution of powers to cities in England, and raised the prospect of an English parliament, after Scotland voted against independence.
With a victory margin of about 55% to 45% for the ‘no’ campaign, Mr Cameron said there was now “a great opportunity to change the way the British people are governed, and change it for the better”.
He said a system that allowed England to vote on tax, spending and welfare would be set up alongside, and at the same pace as, the transfer of new powers to Scotland. William Hague, leader of the House of Commons, would draw up plans for this, he said.
He said: “Political leaders on all sides of the debate now bear a heavy responsibility to come together and work constructively to advance the interests of people in Scotland, as well as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for each and every citizen of our United Kingdom.
“Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs…
“So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.
Mr Cameron added: “It is also important we have wider civic engagement about to improve governance in our United Kingdom, including how to empower our great cities. And we will say more about this in the coming days.”
Reacting to the news, David Sparks (Lab), chair of the Local Government Association, said: “”The devolution genie is out of the bottle. The new powers that Scotland will now receive must be given to local areas in England and Wales. The appetite for devolution does not stop at the border and the rest of the UK will not be content to settle for the status quo.”
Cllr Sparks said devolution needed to be “underpinned by a fair and equitable distribution of public money for all of the UK” and added the LGA was calling for “an urgent meeting of a Constitutional Convention to speed up the process of English devolution”.
However, he said an English parliament “would not represent true devolution”.
“It is locally elected councils - driving their local economies through devolved taxation and greater control over council tax and business rates - which can satisfy the desire of people in England to have greater say in the places they live and work,” he said.
Solace director Graeme McDonald urged councils to seize the opportunity that a UK-wide constitutional convention presented to unshackle English local government.
He said: “Voters realise their local representatives are constrained in their ability to make real decisions and changes. The coming debate promises to bring into question many parts of our constitutional settlement. Limited changes to parliamentary voting, decided by Whitehall ministers, will not wash.
“While the time for change is now, that change must be debated and decided openly. We must not rush toward ill-advised, centrally imposed structural reform. Achieving a sustainable devolutionary settlement, with real public support, will require a UK-wide constitutional convention. The opportunity is ours to seize greater localism for all parts of the UK.”
Meanwhile, Lord Shipley (Lib Dem), the former leader of Newcastle City Council and a government adviser on local growth deals, told LGC that in the wake of the “no” vote he expected to see “devolution on demand” within England.
“People have to want the power because with power comes responsibility and that implies taxation, not just council tax but business rates and any other taxes authorities are going to ask for, like the hotel bed tax for example.
“Local government has to be in the leadership position because it is not straight forward,” he said.
“We have to have a debate about how we are going to organise ourselves. There will have to be an agreement on what structures can be devolved otherwise it will make no difference.”
He also said he was “in favour of unitary councils” and added he thought areas with county, district, and town and parish councils will “have to take a long hard look at how they are organised because devolution will be very difficult in these council areas which have three tiers of goverance.”
He said he thought that if you “merge the districts…it works and is more effective”.