Just look at the record. After abolishing Labour’s regional councils, the Government created the Local Enterprise Partnerships – too small, poor and powerless to do much.
Then came the Northern Powerhouse, though no one knows what or where it is, and in so far as it’s concerned with training and transport, more is spent in the South than here where the need is greater.
HS2 (which will never reach Leeds) and Crossrail are greedy golden elephants gobbling all the money.
Finally the Tories, the party which abolished the metropolitan counties in the 1980s, brought them back with city mayors, though not all areas got them and, except for London, those who did only got a loudspeaker for begging.
No wonder the South Yorkshire’s Mayor decided to stay in Parliament, also serving as MP for Barnsley Central, where his voice will be heard.
What a mess.
The people want more power handed down to them because they’re becoming so fed up with centralised control from a Westminster bubble.
The Covid crisis would have been better handled by local authorities which knew their areas rather than by a set of failing contractors.
The central Civil Service has been so savagely run down that it is beginning to look less competent and certainly less trusted than local government.
Yet all we get is a patchwork quilt of impotent authorities.
Time to return to basics.
Devolution has worked in Scotland, but England needs new regions to get the same benefits. That points to larger and stronger units which has always been the basis of previous thinking about devolution.
When Richard Wainwright, the then Liberal MP for Colne Valley, and I set up the Campaign for the North in the 1970s, he wanted a Council of the North, while I wanted devolution for Yorkshire as an entity.
The Kilbrandon Commission on the constitution proposed eight regions. John Prescott, Labour’s great advocate of devolution, set up eight development authorities, though Tony Blair refused to let him go further by turning them into elected regional governments.
Why not build on these precedents by devolving power to eight regions?
Start with the North East, go down through Yorkshire (whose population is the same as Scotlands) and Lancashire (ditto) then down through the East and West Midlands.
Each has enough population and enough common identity to make viable units with their own elected government and financial, though not legislative power.
They could handle housing, transport, education, housing and training and raise taxes to finance them with the help of the redistribution from richer to poorer regions that goes on in federal systems.
This would leave central government to handle everything else with a second chamber at Parliament elected by the regions, and stop the politicalisation of grants as Tories give to southern suburbs Labour to big cities.
It’s simple. It would work. It brings government closer to the people, allows each region to serve its own needs and ends the ‘‘winner takes all’’ governmental system which can no longer fit all the desires, opinions and feelings of a more complicated sophisticated nation into two parties giving absolute power to the winning party to the exclusion of everyone else.
Such a devolution would create a new politics to replace our failing elite, it would also give influence to everyone and make our elective dictatorship not only more efficient but more democratic, sensitive and responsive than the creaking antiquated insensitive system we’re lumbered with now.
That might have been necessary to run an empire and fight wars. It hardly suits the needs of a better educated society whose people want to be heard as we approach 2021.
Austin Mitchell was Labour MP for Great Grimsby from 1977 until 2015. He is a former broadcaster.
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