Corbyn, Cooper and Burnham are being outflanked by Osborne on devolution

by Nick Small

As the next Labour leader takes office, a number of big northern English city regions will sign-off devolution deals with central government.  These deals will see new powers and funding devolved from Whitehall to elected city region on transport, skills, business support, funding, inward investment, welfare to work and potentially policing, fire services and health.

The deals won’t be perfect and, yes, some cuts will undoubtedly be devolved.  But it will be the biggest transfer of power away from the centre since the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were set up in 1998 with up to £60bn of funding being devolved from Whitehall.   And it will start a process that could fundamentally change our great northern cities’ dependency on London for good.

Devolution and austerity are in some ways two sides of the same coin.  For cities like Liverpool there are only two ways out of austerity.

The first thing we can do is to break down silos between different parts of government and move to place based funding and delivery of public services.  This lets us do more with less.

The second is to boost our local economy to strengthen our tax base in a progressive way.

This is what we’ve been doing in Liverpool over the last five years.  A devolution deal would allow us to build on that work and to keep more tax receipts raised locally to spend locally.  It’s not an option to go back to the 1980s and the grotesque chaos of illegal budgets.  Let’s not forget that those tactics failed then, they hit working people the hardest and did untold reputational damage to cities like Liverpool that lasted many, many years.

But the man most likely to be the next Labour leader doesn’t seem to get it, calling city devolution “a cruel deception” and “southern hot air.”  To be fair, neither Andy Burnham nor Yvette Cooper, based on past action, are instinctive decentralisers.

This matters because Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, regardless of its shortcomings and regardless of what Westminster Labour thinks, will set in train a process of English devolution that will be irreversible.  Assuming the polls are right and Jeremy Corbyn wins the Leadership, the significance of this could be huge.

Corbyn’s Northern Future and Investment, Growth and Tax Justice campaign documents promote centralised interventions that too often failed our cities in the past – a national industrial strategy, a national education service, a national investment bank to invest in national infrastructure.

Talking about the reindustrialisation of the North and reopening coal mines is a million miles away from where the real growth potential is in our northern cities.  It is low carbon technologies, advanced manufacturing, the visitor economy, creative and digital industries and life sciences that we need to be boosting.

Burnham and Cooper’s campaigns also appear too wedded to centralised interventions, albeit of a different kind.  It’s probably fair to say that both are lukewarm, at best, to city devolution.

Both are still promoting what looks like a pre-crash public spending model that the last Labour government implemented between 1997 and 2008 – redistribute the proceeds of accelerated economic growth from London and the South East to the regions through central government tax and spending.

Both these economic development models are flawed.  Both have failed cities like mine in the past.  With both the presumption is for services to be organised and delivered centrally, unless it can be demonstrated that local is better.  It really should be the other way round.

Over the next few months and years, whoever our next leader is, could do a lot worse than look to what’s happening in our big city regions and learn the lessons from this for 2020.

Nick Small is a Liverpool councillor and assistant Mayor

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14 Responses to “Corbyn, Cooper and Burnham are being outflanked by Osborne on devolution”

  1. Bob says:

    I’m surprised the contributor has not made a ‘Joe (Anderson) for Metro Mayor’ pitch in particular as he is one of his men. Osborne talked to the Manchester consortium as they are pragmatic councillors, unlike the antics of Anderson and Dowd over the coming together of the five councils in Merseyside and the threats of legal action by Anderson using council tax payers money when he was not elected. That was never going to happen. Are the council tax payers expected to pay for Anderson’s industrial tribunal, surely his union should be doing that or was the case so weak they walked away?

    Learn lessons, just look up the road 30 miles in Manchester, I hate to say it, they have an awful lot right.

    Osborne along with Leese et Al kept the MPs in the dark in particular about health provision and funding much to the anger of Burnham, good on them.

  2. Joseph says:

    The West Midlands Combined Authority, with a population of over 4 million, would be the largest city-region to receive a devo deal. However it is not in the North.

  3. Cllr Small is correct to say the way forward for provincial city regions is to adopt place based funding – our money spent here – and the real route out of the spiral of underachievement is to improve work opportunities, raise and collect more taxes and encourage more money to move through our local economy. Working Scousers and Mancunians spend their money in the North. On their homes, their cars, their meals out and their families. We are no different to working Cockneys or Geordies in that respect. Putting more money into the pay packets of more people is real trickle down economics.
    Corbyn’s preposterous view of the North as some desolate hill outside a moody, bleak pit village is both insulting and ignorant. As are his politics. His Central Investment Strategy and its Maoist overtones of 5 and 7 year plans to build tractors neither understands the business realities of Northern England or the ambition of its people. It may pander to the retrogressives who have flocked to his campaign but it will be leave us on Merseyside – where only 1 of the 15 CLP’s nominated him – with no champion in Westminster. The need for power to be devolved to city regions is likely to take on additional significance at 11am this Saturday.

  4. Tafia says:

    Martin Liptrot but it will be leave us on Merseyside – where only 1 of the 15 CLP’s nominated him

    A misleading statement if ever there was one. I notice you fail to point out that one of the leadership candidates happens to be from the area, that one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world comes from the area and is heavilty supported there and said candidate campaigned vigourously over the tragedy that was Hillsboro.

    Strange that.

  5. Madasafish says:

    >Martin Liptrot

    Devolution of powers is incompatible with Marxism as the proles may stray. Central planning means they cannot deviate from the True Path to a Greater Marxist State. All power to the People (as long as they don’t seriously want it)

  6. Landless Peasant says:

    Labour should oppose Osborne’s idological Austerity no matter who is leader. And fight against evil Tory Welfare reforms. The DWP re now saying Benefits should be sanctioned if hospital appointments clash with wdoing unpaid workfare. We have to stop these bastards.

  7. ” …….calling city devolution ‘a cruel deception’ ”

    Jeremy Corbyn referred to Osborne’s plans on devolution this way, not devolution per se.

    The division of powers between central and local government is always going to be somewhat arbitrary and the subject of some debate.

    We should be wary of the idea of central governments wishing to divest themselves of responsibility for large sectors of our economy being dressed up as “devolution”.

    Devolution then means councils are given the responsibility for improving the economies of their cities and regions but not the power to achieve those improvements.

  8. Mike says:

    The author is correct, the Conservatives have outflanked Labour and its stuck in the past, top down approach. As someone said it isn`t just the North but the Midlands that will also get devolution. Labour complains about the alleged bias towards London (forgetting it is the political, legal and financial capital of the UK as well as having a population greater than Scotland, Wales and NI combined) and this helps rebalance the country.

    Comrade Corbyn is not the answer.

  9. Mike Homfray says:

    But given there won’t be a penny if extra money Co in from the centre this is another example of the Tories simply palming off responsibility for cuts down the line – and imposing an entirely unatisfactory form of local governance too.
    What this actually demonstrates is just how close together the polices of the Government are to some right wing localists in the Labour party. They agree with nonsense like commissioning and social enterprise none of which should have any sort of place in Labour policies,

    There may be a case for some local devolution – though not this model -after redistribution but thankfully the likely Labour leaders will be under no obligation to tickle the tummies of the Little Napoleons so aching for power without principle

  10. Bob says:

    LP, proof or evidence please, not just I heard it from a man in the pub.

  11. swatantra says:

    You don’t have to be a military genius to work out that the Tories are 2 steps ahead of us, and pinching our ideas, like upping the Living Wage. This is because the Labour are too interested in navel gazing to comprehend what is going on in the real world around them. They’ve had a4 months head start on Labour, and I fear we are not going to catch up wit them in the final sprint, because of infighting.

  12. John P Reid says:

    Mike Homfray what do you mean there won’t be a penny from the government, even thatcher when she deregulated school still put state money into them

    landless Peaant who’s “we” who you want to stop these evil people, do you mean the labour party, you haven’t voted labour in 32 years, and you assume that the labour party wants your vote,by the way you come out with criticisms of the DWP based on the assumption that it makes you right to oppose something

    (the other)Mike your right

  13. Union Jock says:

    Local government and ‘city regions’ are not the same by any means.

    The latter are usually advocated by power-hungry politicians who fear being out of office too long at Westminster or are not up to being national government ministers. They want to be cocks of smaller dunghills.

    Council tax payers want town halls close to their localities and councillors who live down the road, not party-dominated behemoths miles away run by expenses-enriched party hacks who call themselves ‘cabinet members’ and suchlike bullfrog titles.

    This is a scheme for making governance even more remote from the governed, and more careerist.

  14. Tafia says:

    “Corbyn, Cooper and Burnham are being outflanked by Osborne on devolution”

    It’s not particularly stretching for any half-decent politician to outflank any of these three. In fact a reasonably skilled politician would have no problem with all three at once.

    That the intellectual giants of todays Labour party includes Corbyn, Burnham,, Cooper, Kendall, Ummana, Watson, Balls, Brown et al is one of today’s great political tragedies.

    The definition of dearth – Labour in the 21st Century.

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