RSA puts forward blueprint for city devolution

25 Mar 15

The next government should create an independent City Devolution Commission to devolve power over public services and some taxes to every major UK conurbation by the end of the parliament, the RSA has said.

Publishing a plan for how to spread devolution around the UK following both the agreement of powers for Manchester over NHS spending and devolution of more business rates to Manchester and Cambridge, the think-tank said there was a need to formalise the current ad hoc process of devolution.

Today’s Devo Met: charting a course ahead report builds on the work of the City Growth Commission, founded by the RSA, which concluded more powerful cities could increase the size of the economy by as much as £38.4bn.

The new analysis, published with the support of the Core Cities Group, said the next government should set out a plan for devolution so that local decision-making is supported through the next Spending Review.

RSA director of public services and communities Charlotte Alldritt said that, while Greater Manchester’s deals represented a game-changing step towards integrated economic and social policy, major questions remained.

‘Are all places entitled to receive the same powers? How will these be determined and enabled? And what are the implications for central government, MPs and Parliament?

‘It’s important that whoever forms the next government considers the barriers still in place and the current limits of the political party’s commitment to devolution. The creation of an Independent City Devolution Commission would help give both city regions and Whitehall a clear and transparent framework to worth with, so they’re no longer kept in the dark about the path ahead.’

Under the plans, the commission would be formed in the first Queen’s Speech of the next parliament. It would be tasked with receiving bids from city regions for more powers and to judge whether they would be able to demonstrate competence, accountability and collaboration to take control of public spending.

In particular, it should judge whether elected mayors or other governance models will provide the accountability necessary for devolution, as well as ensuring they have the ability to handle the risk of greater fiscal autonomy.

If they were judged to have the necessary competence and accountability, they would then be able to enter into negotiations with government to agree a deal across a host of service areas.

Core Cities Cabinet chair and leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese said that there were some ‘clear and defined tasks for whoever is in Downing Street after the general election’.

He added: ‘Step one is to create an independent devolution commission, a panel of experts who can decide what powers should be granted to which cities and their regions.

‘The RSA report says that we are now at a moment of profound constitutional uncertainty. This report aims to give some clarity and transparency to the process. It also underlines the great potential of devolution to transform the fortunes of our great cities and the lives of the millions of people that live in them.’

• Watch Ben Lucas, the RSA’s chair of public services, talk to Public Finance about the need for devolution to boost public services and how to drive more powers to cities across the country.

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