Growing support for more devolution to the north

Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband
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DEVOLUTION from Whitehall to the English regions enjoys huge support but the public is hopelessly divided over how power should be wielded at a local level, a new poll shows.

The same research found 70 per cent think that London is given preferential treatment over other parts of the UK.

However, the results of the poll also underlines the huge challenge facing supporters of devolution from Whitehall to the English in turning their aspirations into reality.

While there is a clear desire from the public to see more decisions taken at a local level they are far from clear on who should take them.

Asked who should take on powers handed down from Whitehall, just over a third of voters wanted elected regional bodies, a quarter wanted councils to have a bigger role and almost one in five chose partnerships made up of local authorities, business and other organisations.

The polling was commissioned by Devolve Deliver, a new organisation co-ordinating the work of organisations looking to move power out of London.

Devolve Deliver co-ordinator Neil Foster said: “The UK is one of the most over-centralised countries in the developed world and voters recognise that London receives preferential treatment to the cost of everywhere else.

“This poll shows there is a thirst across the country for more powers to be in the hands of local people and away from Whitehall.

“The best people to improve our economies and services are those closest to communities and trusted most by voters.

“Labour is on the right path in pledging to increase the amount devolved to local areas but can go further.

“While Scotland has its referendum, people in England are looking to see who will give us greater powers for our regions and local areas.”

The upcoming referendum on Scotland’s future has reignited the debate over the ‘unfinished business’ of devolution which has seen powers shifted to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast over the last 15 years.

Under the last Government’s plans, elected English regional assemblies were to be the last piece of the jigsaw but they were scrapped after voters in the North-East overwhelmingly rejected the idea.

The Coalition has agreed ‘city deals’ with places including the Humber and the Leeds and Sheffield city regions giving them more autonomy over how to spend Government cash on areas such as skills and transport.

Earlier this month, Labour leader Ed Miliband promised to go further by doubling the amount of money the current Government plans to give to local areas to spend on economic growth.

Damian Lyons Lowe, chief executive of Survation which conducted the poll, said: “Whilst there may not be support for full Scotland-style devolution in English regions, there is clearly an appetite to see powers in many areas, including transport, service delivery and even some economic powers, wrested away from central government and handed over to more local bodies.

“With a majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters saying they would be more likely to support a party promising to devolve powers, it seems that Ed Miliband has potential gains to make from his increased focus on this area.”