Lord O’Neill, the former Treasury minster leading work on city devolution and the northern powerhouse, said it was “disappointing” chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn statement did not contain any new devolution deals, especially for urban areas.
In his first speech since quitting the Conservative party and resigning from his post in September, Lord O’Neill called for a “renewed push” from the government to devolve more powers to “key urban areas within the northern powerhouse and elsewhere”.
LGC reported last week how a lack of capacity among ministers and civil servants at the Department for Communities & Local Government had been blamed for the absence of any new devolution deals being included in the autumn statement.
Speaking in the Lords on Tuesday, Lord O’Neill, now a non-affiliated peer, said while it was “heartening” to see references to the northern powerhouse in the autumn statement “that did not entirely compensate for the lack of new or additional initiatives”.
He said: “It is disappointing to see no further progress in the autumn statement following that initiated with Greater Manchester, now commendably followed by Liverpool and the West Midlands.
“There remain key urban areas within the northern powerhouse and elsewhere that, in addition to requiring more local ambition, need not to allow our frequently petty national party politics to hold back what is necessary to unleash more of the local bottom-up-driven vitality that is needed to boost their, and national, productivity.”
At the time of his resignation Lord O’Neill said prime minister Theresa May needed to have the northern powerhouse project and boosting local economies at the heart of the government’s economic policy.
The autumn statement contained a lot of announcements on infrastructure spending and housing.
While improvements to transport infrastructure were “necessary” they were “not sufficient” on their own, said Lord O’Neill.
He added: “The same is true with respect to devolution, especially to urban areas that have not yet started on this journey.”
Hired by former chancellor George Osborne, Lord O’Neill, who was ranked second in the list of the most important people to local government in the last LGC 100, was a key conduit between councils and central government in developing devolution deals.