The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

The Future of the United Kingdom is Based on Devolution

14th October 2014

The fantastic democratic adventure in Scotland has given us a real opportunity to reform our system of government and to shape the future of the United Kingdom so that it is founded on the principles of union and devolution, rather than on massive over-centralisation. The union party, leaders need to seize the opportunity with a vision and courage that has been lacking so far.

This process is already underway in respect of Scotland. The three major union parties – and increasingly the SNP – are rhetorically united in their commitment to a significant further devolution of powers to Scotland. But what’s good enough for one part of our union should be good enough for the rest. We must press for serious action about what will happen in England and not kick it into the long grass of some distant constitutional convention.

The West Lothian Question and calls for ‘English votes for English laws’ are a diversion. The way to fix the ‘English question’ does not and cannot lie with yet more navel gazing in Westminster.

We must instead break the power of Whitehall and the centre to empower local people to make their own decisions on local issues. Rather than creating a new tier of elected politicians, and adding further complexity to an already opaque allocation of powers, independent local government can and should be the vehicle for English devolution.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, which I Chair, published a report in 2013 entitled “Prospects for Codifying the Relationship between Central and Local Government”. This report was informed by an enormous response to our consultation from localities around the country, with the vast majority strongly in favour of having real responsibility for their own affairs.

Following this report I produced the Local Government Independence Bill. This Bill was launched in July, and aims to help all parties develop their ideas on localism ready for the general election, which now less only 200 days away. It proposes codification of the respective powers of central and local government, and would ensure that local government can be independent financially.

More political powers would mean nothing without financial independence. I have proposed that HMRC should send half the national income tax take to locally elected councils, who would then be free to raise the rest of their income however they and their electorates decided, and to spend this money in the way most appropriate for their locality.

These measures would make local government constitutionally responsible to their electorate. Although this prospect may be unnerving for some, after many years of experience with Local Government I am confident that local councils would thrive. Their devoted service to their localities make them best placed to control their own spending and decide on the local services needed in their area.

Devolving powers to independent local government in England is now supported by a wide coalition of individuals and organisations including Boris Johnson, the Core Cities Group, the Local Government Association and, not least, ResPublica. We must not lose momentum in our pursuit of these changes.

The three union parties should commit to a clear timetable for reform, or the window of opportunity will diminish as a post-2015-election Government implements its wider legislative programme.

The referendum has given us momentum for real constitutional change. We must now ensure that this opportunity is not lost in party politics or further delay.

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