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Once the result of last month’s Scottish vote on independence became clear, it wasn’t long before politicians and analysts alike were claiming that the “devolution genie” was out of the bottle. The referendum, it seems, has intensified the long-standing argument of many that English regions should be given greater scope when it comes to their power and funding.
If promises from the main political parties are followed through in full, Scotland could have control over its spending, taxing and borrowing. If Wales were then to follow, cities and counties within England would be left behind and some high profile regions have already made it clear that they will not stand by and allow this to happen without demanding more influence over their own decision-making. No doubt something will have to be done, but what could this potentially (and, more to the point, realistically) mean?
Groups of combined local authorities have already begun pushing for local autonomy but they will face stiff resistance from parts of Central Government who will fight any proposed changes to spending powers (particularly in areas such as health and education). As Tony Travers has already pointed out, moves to reform the current status quo could lead to gridlock within Whitehall.
However, I think the pragmatists at Ministerial level are aware that Councils must be given more control when making decisions on issues such as local job creation, economic growth, social care and welfare programmes. William Hague, who will be chairing a new committee to look at what options are available, has already gone on record to say that English devolution could become an issue at next year's election. Recent conversations I have had with those within the sector have also said the demand for change from town halls will only get louder in the run-up to May.
Pre-election promises about giving more control to regions and handing-over more power to cities and counties are therefore to be expected, but I am sure they will no doubt fall short of pledging the kind of freedom that others enjoy across mainland Europe. Debate and discussion may have moved on thanks to Scotland, but huge constitutional reform for England is still some way off.
Bambos Eracleous, Partner
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Categories: Local Government