Monday, June 26, 2006


'Kens' to rule City Regions?

I've always been a fan of devolving power from the centre and not just to Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. The evils of centralisation, amongst other things, were graphically described by Simon Jenkins yesterday and I well remember a Swedish friend, a local councillor in Uppsala, extolling the exciting benefits of their recent devolution to localities. So I'm pleased to read of Ruth Kelly's anticipated speech today (foreshadowing a white paper in the autumn) in which she envisages mayors running 'city regions of England with powers matching those of the Mayor of London'.

The eight centres of such mayoral control are slated to be Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpoool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield and possible powers would include: transport(which would make a lot of sense), employment, innovation, creativity and culture(whatever that means) plus sustainable and cohesive communities (ditto). Such a development would bring us alongside most European countries in terms of devolved power where 'strong accountable leaders are a powerful tool if areas are to create strong economic growth'. If nothing else, such an idea reveals that the desperate control freakery exhibited by Blair in trying to frustrate Livingstone's candidacy for the mayoralty, has now been completely abandoned. Ken seems to have traversed the distance between pariah and future role model with remarkable consistency and aplomb.

However, to further reorganise the vexed area of sub-national government is not going to be easy. The hurdles Mrs Kelly will have to clear include:

i) the vested interests of existing authorities- all with their strong connections to national parties.
ii) the fact that only a handful of cities decided to hold referendums on elected city mayors with even fewer deciding to adopt such a system.
iii) the dubious degree of support for such change, witness the sad, wholly defeated proposal for a regional assembly in the north-east.

Finally, so time consuming is the process of changing the rules of the game that it could be Ruth Kelly is not the minister managing such changes... nor, even, Labour the party initiating them.

I remember a tier of Regional government which was designed to have exactly the sort of powers you describe. Around here it was the West Midlands County Council, with it's own democratically elected members and with responsibility for cross council measures such as regeneration, economic development, transport.

All swept away by Thatcher because she didn't like Ken talking to Irish republicans before Willie Whitelaw did. It is a sign of the times that we now see handing the same controls over to ONE democratically elected media star as if it was some sort of historical advance. It tells me more about Blairism than I really want to have to think about.
Good point. I remember the metropolitan counties too and recall a mate, who was a councillor, saying the opposition to proposed abolition would sweep Thatcher away. It didn't quite manage that, of course. I'm not sure this city region lark will come off but it's a step in the right direction as long as the money is devolved too. In Sweden more of the welfare state has been handed down to the really local localities and it seems to work fine.
I have quoted from this piece in my column in today's NW Enquirer - hope you don't mind!
Mais avec plaisir, mon ami!
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