The Conservative mayor for the West of England has questioned the government’s commitment to devolution and giving areas the powers needed to successfully implement industrial strategies.
Tim Bowles’ comments came as the Local Government Association outlined proposals to pilot a devolved employment and skills service.
Speaking at the LGA’s conference in Birmingham, Mr Bowles called for a “grown up” partnership between local and central government in order to deliver economic improvements and address issues including congestion on roads, a shortage of affordable housing, and speeding up broadband connections.
He said: “I’m very confident everybody I work with in the [West of England] region is up for the challenge we face. The question I’m throwing out there today is: is government?
“The government’s industrial strategy is about delivering for the nation. Devolution is about us delivering economic growth for our region. So if this is going to work we are going to have to see a massive shift in the workings of Whitehall.
“In local government we know where those challenges are and we are very keen to help but there must be that shift in the workings of Whitehall.”
Meanwhile, Sir Richard Leese (Lab), speaking in his capacity as chair of the LGA’s city regions board, outlined plans to reform employment and skills services.
Funding totalling £10.5bn a year is run by eight government departments or agencies, and distributed across 20 different national schemes. Cllr Leese, who is also Manchester City Council’s leader, said the system was “fragmented”.
The LGA is calling for all back-to-work, skills, apprenticeship, careers advice, and business support schemes and funding to be devolved to local areas and run as a one-stop service called ‘Work Local’.
Cllr Leese said this would be “led by combined authorities and groups of councils” with a view to piloting it in 2022.
Acknowledging the five year gap, Cllr Leese said: “We should not underestimate the difficulty of the task even if we have a willing government to work with us to achieve what is a very practical set of steps to improve [peoples’] circumstances.”