Our country is deeply unequal and divided. The system is broken and Britain knows it.
The cure is handing power and funding to people, families, communities and regions to shape their lives as they see fit. This is the real way for them to take back control. This is the only way for them to end the systemic economic and political dysfunction that blights Britain.
We in Labour cannot stand for a broken consensus that values centralisation over democracy.
Labour for Devolution is a grassroots, members-led group promoting the devolution of power away from Westminster and into communities. Please sign up and support our campaign, and together we can rebalance Britain for the good of us all.
Multiple studies show that countries where local areas have more power have lower levels of regional inequality, better public services and higher levels of productivity. It is not a coincidence that Britain is the most centralised developed country in the world and the most regionally unequal. Public services work to the priorities of their Whitehall departments rather than those of the places they serve, preventing local autonomy.
Many of the most exciting policies are developed locally. Think of our own Preston Model. Or Barcelona’s proposals for car-free superblocks or basic income pilots in Utrecht or Ontario. Yet many ambitious ideas are impossible for British cities or regions to adopt.
At the moment local government is a mess of different systems, from directly-elected metro mayors to multiple types of council, with very different powers and often excluding smaller towns and rural areas. Boris Johnson has enthusiastically reheated George Osborne’s metro-mayor programme, which has delivered some powers to some urban areas, but which is small fry alongside a scorched-earth austerity falling on local government more than any central government department.
Jamie Driscoll, Labour’s North of Tyne mayor, for example, controls a £20-million-a-year budget; Newcastle City Council, one of three local authorities included in his new combined authority, alone had £280 million cut from its budget in the last decade. Labour must support our excellent metro-mayors doing great work across many city-regions.
But devolution is false when it passes the deepest spending cuts onto local government.
To deliver the reform that local government needs, we should form regional assemblies in each of England’s regions, with their own first ministers and funded by a Barnett Formula for England. Democratically elected, these would ensure local control over education, health, training, social care, housing and transport. They would bring public services closer to communities and replace Whitehall bureaucracy with local democracy.
By extending the devolution that Wales and Scotland already enjoy to the whole country, we can solve the West Lothian Question once and for all. Nationalists will no longer be free to use our badly-organised democracy to promote their separatisms. Instead, communities from Cornwall to Caithness will have the same powers over their futures, free to celebrate their local identities within a renewed Union.
Not everything can be run from a desk in Westminster. During crises such as the coronavirus pandemic, it is local government that has shown itself to be proactive, flexible, creative and capable of working collaboratively across communities. It is our duty to put power back in the hands of ordinary people.
While other parties encourage division, a fair, balanced system of devolution would bring unity through a political system that finally celebrated regional and civic identities – without risking the chaos that nationalism creates. It can empower us all.
What we propose is not far-fetched. A fair, federated structure helps spread power and prosperity around many other countries, such as Australia and Germany. Now, it is desperately needed here. Labour needs to win in 2024. That means showing that we will deliver for every part of our country, and reshape our unequal nation for good.