Clegg sets out plans for devolution on demand

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg
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NICk Clegg has said the Government will have to introduce “devolution on demand” for the North as he promises to borrow to invest in major infrastructure projects.

The deputy prime minister has told The Yorkshire Post he wants proposals for devolution and English laws being worked up by William Hague to include a new law that would let cities have powers devolved to them at their request unless the Government can give a reason against.

Mr Clegg’s comments come as he prepares to set out in his conference speech today how the Lib Dems would fund investment and services once the UK has addressed its deficit concerns in 2018.

He said it is “frankly extraordinary” that the Chancellor George Osborne has said he wants to go on cutting budgets past 2018, saying that he sees “some sense of normality returning to public spending levels” instead.

And he challenged Mr Osborne’s claim to be focusing on Northern revival, saying the working age poor would pay the price of a Chancellor who rules out borrowing toinvest.

The deputy prime minister will also today set out plans to create for the first time NHS waiting list targets for those with mental health issues.

The move comes alongside £120m announced today to fund mental health services.

Speaking ahead of his speech, Mr Clegg said he was keen to push devolution to cities and regions.

“What I am working up at the moment is ideas on how we can enshrine in law a statutory right for local areas, to demand new powers from Whitehall, in other word to take down new powers from Whitehall and enshrine that right, that sort of devolution on demand, in law, which can only be refused if there are very very good reasons.

“I very much hope we could publish some draft legislative articles on that on roughly the same timetable as we will be publishing the draft articles on devolution to Scotland at the beginning of the year.”

He added: “I’ve said very clearly to the Tories that I’m not going to have decentralisation for England dropped by the wayside – it’s got to be an inalienable part of this. I want it bolted on.”

The Lib Dem leader said Government would still have a role in backing major schemes, insisting his party would borrow rater than back the chancellor in revival plans for the North.

“It all sounds very good from George, but it is not nearly as appetising if you subject it to any scrutiny.

“We said very clearly, once the structural deficit is done in 2017/18 and as debt continues to fall thereafter we should commit ourselves to borrow once again on a sensible basis for investment.

“George Osborne has made it clear that even after the deficit is dealt with the only way he will actually fund a Government, those improvements in the North, is by hitting the working age poor in the North.

“If you want to do something on the scale that is needed in the North, you have to use the muscle of the state and borrow sensibly when finances allow.”