Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham city council, and CoR member recently discussed the idea of devolved powers across the UK, and the impact it could have.
This follows recent moves for a combined Midlands Local Authority and the announcement of the Smith report on Devolving power to Scotland following the Referendum.
What future plans do you see for the Devolution of powers in the UK? Which powers would you like see devolved to better co-ordinate regional development in the UK?
All the political parties in the UK are now committed to some form of devolution to local areas and popular support for this has grown since the referendum on Scottish independence in September. The focus so far has been on “city deals” and “growth deals” which provide specific funding and decision making to different local areas – in the area of economic development and infrastructure. The General Election in May 2015 will allow the main parties a chance to take the process further, as they have previously promised. This is based on the idea of councils coming together to form city regions, “metros” or “Combined Authorities” Over the next five years we need to see this agenda moving forward. We are pushing for real and permanent devolution of the funding for economic functions not short term “deals”. This should include transport investment and running public transport, skills, employment programmes, economic development, business support, social housing and Planning. We are also pushing for financial devolution – control over local property taxes, the ability to raise small additional taxes such as hotel taxes and the power to use Tax Increment Financing to make economic investments.
The Devolving of power will bring difficult decisions (transport, housing, tax) from Westminster to the hands of Local politicians. What effect do you believe this will have on the strength of individual regions?
Bringing greater power to local authority will allow city regions to set out an integrated strategy for transport, skills and economic development/regeneration and lever far more private investment than with central decision making. Regionalised power will allow decentralised authorities a chance to complete projects more quickly and economically than they could before.
Scottish Devolution and the Independence debate seemed to have a strong basis in the idea of promoting and maintaining Scottish identity, do you believe that local identity is providing a main driving force behind the popularity of this debate?
There are elements of this feeling around the country – for example in the other nations of Wales and Northern Ireland and also in Cornwall, Yorkshire, Cumberland and the North East. However, the main driver is now the sense of detachment from Westminster and the concentration of wealth and growth in London and the South East. People care about jobs, housing, transport and skills, more than identity or constitutional issues.
You said in a recent interview that the combined authority could become “a core of a midlands powerhouse” Could you elaborate on this point?
This is a word that has become overused in the UK recently. In essence it means working together across an economic region to generate agglomeration effects through economic development and transport investments – improved connectivity and access to markets etc. In the Midlands (East and West) we have the main manufacturing hub of the UK and many interlinked large firms and supply chains.
The area is already the UK’s biggest exporter and the region with the most inward investment. We are the only part of the country with a trade surplus with China and we have seen a 57% increase in inward investment projects in the last year. We want to make this a global centre for advanced manufacturing and exports.
One key programme is Midlands Connect – our developing plan for new transport links between the East and West Midlands, including Stoke, Worcester, Hereford, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Peterborough, Rugby etc.