Devolution will no doubt be a defining issue of this parliament, and with the opportunities it could bring councils, it should go down as a defining moment in local government history, too.
With vast constitutional changes taking place across the UK, including the Scotland Bill, the debate on English votes for English laws, the Welsh Bill due in the autumn and greater devolution to local areas, councils have a lot to get to grips with.
The new all-party parliamentary group for reform, decentralisation and devolution has launched an inquiry to shape what that future should look like. I am delighted that I’ll be chairing this inquiry, and with a mixture of central government and local government experience, I hope I can offer valuable insight from both sides of the fence.
Devolving power and responsibility to local areas offers our best chance of promoting economic growth and improving services. Given the scale of the cuts to come, it is only by giving every council the chance to reshape services and better support their residents that they will thrive, rather than just get by.
However, the APPG legacy report, A Parliament for Reform, paints a disjointed picture of the impending changes, saying: “The approach to constitutional reform has been piecemeal and opportunistic…in addition the pace of change and depth of public debate have not been consistent across all nations and parts of the UK.”
Taking a consistent approach and looking at national and local government together, the inquiry will uncover how we can have better devolution, in a more coherent way, and make sure that reform for the whole of the UK is a reality.
One of the core principles of the inquiry will be to gather as many views as possible from outside the corridors of Westminster. The challenge and opportunity of devolution can only be fully understood by seeing it through the eyes of others, from the café eyeing up a second site, to the town experiencing a shortage of plumbers or builders.
Everyone, citizens as well as councils, has a stake in devolution, sometimes without even realising it. With the constitutional landscape set to shift dramatically over the next five years, now is the time to consider the possibilities that will bring.
The deadline for submissions to the inquiry is 1 October, and I hope we’ll receive evidence from councils stretching from Orkney to the tip of Cornwall, as well as businesses, voluntary organisations and academics, too.
By focusing on four areas – devolved nations, local government, central powers in the UK and intra-UK relations and wider constitutional reform – the final report will present a set of well-rounded recommendations to the devolved and UK governments.
Lord Kerslake, chair, all-parliamentary group for reform, decentralisation and devolution