“Worrying signs” over devolution warns Sheffield MP Betts

Clive Betts
Clive Betts
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SHEFFIELD MP Clive Betts has warned there are “worrying” signs the Theresa May government is backtracking over giving areas more control over their own affairs.

Mr Betts argued Labour should be throwing its backing behind devolution including giving areas broad freedom to raise their own taxes.

He also called for more efforts to include the public after recent figures revealed the lack of wareness among Yorkshire residents over efforts to take over powers and money from Whitehall.

South Yorkshire councils last year agreed a draft devolution deal with then chancellor George Osborne.

Doubts have emerged over the future of the deal amid calls for it to be renegotiated with the new government to remove the plan for an elected mayor for the area.

However, there are concerns that any attempt to reopen discussions will be used by the Government as an excuse to scrap the deal and that ministers may stall on talks with areas which have yet to reach an agreement.

Mr Betts said: “There are slightly worrying signs from the new government over whether they really are going to move ahead with this, whether they really believe in it.

“My view has always been that if areas want mayors they should be allowed to have them, if they don’t want mayors they should still be allowed to have powers devolved to them.

“It looks like the government are moving back towards that position but are saying areas that have already got a deal with a mayor they’ve got to keep the mayor.”

Speaking at a conference fringe event organised by the ResPublica thinktank, Mr Betts, who chairs the Commons Local Government Committee admitted the “public have felt excluded” from devolutiion deals.

The Sheffield South-East MP said: “You talk to people in my own city of Sheffield most people don’t know what on earth has gone on, what has been agreed, what was asked for, what was declined.”

Labour has often appeared reluctant to embrace the idea of regional devolution in recent years but Mr Betts called on the party to push for much greater local decision-making including lifting the current government’s ban on local authorities raising council tax by more than two per cent without a local referendum.

He said: “As a party I think we should be arguing, yes more ability to raise money at a local level, let’s reform the council tax, let’s be more progressive, let’s have more of a say in how council tax is raised at a local level, let’s scrap the referendums, let’s have business rate retention, let’s look at property taxes, let’s look at local authorities having a share of income tax and VAT which is very common in other areas.”

He added: “As a Labour Party I think we’ve just got to decide that we are prepared to give far more responsibility and rights at a local level for funding to be raised in a whole variety of ways.”