As Steve Barwick joins the team at DevoConnect he explains why he expects the devolution debate to intensify over the next few months
Devolution was very much in evidence at both the Conservative and Labour Party Conferences. More than a dozen fringe meetings in Manchester discussed everything from connectivity to philanthropy, skills to low carbon, cities to shires. Ben Houchen and Andy Street were particularly visible, speaking at many events. Philip Hammond also announced an extra £400million for transport in the North and the Midlands Engine unveiled their five point vision for growth.
In Brighton, there was similar frenetic activity on the fringe with more than a score of meetings. Core Cities launched their ‘Green Paper for a stronger, fairer Britain’ and both Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram were omni-present whilst Sadiq Khan got to speak in the main Conference Hall. Determined advocates such as Jim McMahon and Jon Trickett suggested an alternative Labour devolution plan is in the works and the Leader’s speech talked of the need for Regional Investment Banks.
Despite Brexit and the question of the Conservative leadership currently overshadowing all other political issues, it is clear that the devolution journey will continue. In fact, over the next few months the devolution debate is likely to intensify. A range of serious questions will be aired and answers, at least to some, will emerge:
- Will Yorkshire’s ‘coalition of the willing’ forge ahead with a compelling plan for devolution across the region (with or without Sheffield and Rotherham)?
- What second Devo Deal will the West Midlands and Tees Valley get in the Budget?
- Is Education for the North – see later – an idea whose time has (started to) come?
- When will plans for greater health devolution for London – apparently agreed in principle – become more clear?
- Can the Northern Powerhouse become a cross party and influential vehicle for genuine devolution of more powers and resources?
- With Labour yet to flesh out its policies, including for a Bank of the North, will a serious debate begin about Devo 3.0?
Joining DevoConnect as a Director, I look forward to being involved in these issues – and more. DevoConnect is a consultancy with a mission – to make devolution work: for business, for wider civil society and for the Mayors themselves.
That is because I passionately believe that devolution is the solution. The over-centralisation of British politics is a key part of the failed politics that must change. It has left large areas of the country – not just the north – neglected and underfunded, it has seen local government disempowered and under-resourced. The result is that the ‘intractable’ problems we face continue – poor public health and poverty, insufficient housing and education services that cannot deliver for people or our inclusive growth ambitions.
Devolution to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London was a bold and significant step (Devo1.0) and Metro Mayors (Devo 2.0) has been another important step forward. But there is still a long way to go. In an age of ‘taking back control’ it is important that in addition to hearing arguments for a Soft Brexit, a Green Brexit, a Jobs Brexit, a Democratic Brexit, we also hear loudly and clearly over the coming eighteen months the need for a Devolved Brexit.