by Joe Anderson
The signing of Magna Carta 800 years ago was a demand from the provinces for checks and balances on the power of the centre. Then, it was about curtailing the rights of kings. Today, the focus is on limiting the power of central government.
Last week, leaders from our largest Core Cities – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – joined together to call for an irreversible transfer of control over tax and spending decisions. Power, in other words, devolved from Whitehall to the town hall – freeing-up locally elected and accountable councillors to shape the destinies of the places they represent.
The call coincides with a major new report from the think tank ResPublica: ‘Restoring Britain’s City States: Devolution, Public Service Reform and Local Economic Growth’, which makes the case for cities being given new tax-raising powers, gaining greater control over business rates and even retaining a slice of income tax locally.
The report suggests a pilot project to allow a city-region to pioneer these ideas, becoming the first to be able to vary income and corporate tax rates and see if this helps with the task of rebalancing the UK economy.
Radical stuff, but long overdue. Too often in the past, governments have flunked the opportunity to devolve real power, leaving London to blossom, but manacling the capital with the weight of carrying the national economy as well. This is crazy.
We only need to see the state of London’s housing market to see how unbalanced our economy has now become – and how much potential across the rest of the country we are wasting as a result.
Although the Core Cities already deliver a quarter of the combined economic output of England, Wales and Scotland, much more can be done if we are given the tools to do the job. Remove the dead hand of Whitehall and let cities play to their strengths.
The outcome of the Scottish referendum on independence and the renewed focus on devolving extra powers means that the traditional foot-dragging about doing the same within England cannot be ignored any longer. The status quo is undemocratic and concentrates wealth, power and opportunity in the South.
Let the Core Cities now show what we can do.
Joe Anderson is Mayor of Liverpool