That ‘time for a change’ feeling is difficult to ignore.

If devolving power away from an over-centralised Westminster and Whitehall system would help to deliver the transformational change and greater prosperity we all want to see, what’s the plan?

The prospect of deeper and wider devolution and a fully devolved North, Midlands or even England within the lifetime of a (let’s say 2 or 3 term) Labour Government is no longer pie in the sky! Gordon Brown’s vision of a ‘New Britain’ which gives back control and doesn’t leave people and places behind could indeed be a reality.

Transformation requires civic engagement and faith in the democratic process to be re-ignited. People and places want to see positive change happening in their lives. They don’t want to feel left behind but do want to feel they live in places which are stronger and safer. Devolution is the solution. More and better devolution could end the perennial challenge of voter apathy; those who feel their voice doesn’t count and nothing will change. Devolution holds the key to unlocking greater opportunity; tackling prevailing regional and inter and intra regional inequalities in the UK. We are now seeing our Metro Mayors doing things differently and blazing a trail. It feels like they have come of age. Those voting for the third time for a Metro Mayor on May 2nd will feel more engaged and will be able to point to real change.

The BIG question which needs to be tackled by the new Government is how do we grasp the opportunity for democratic and civic renewal and how can we make it work? How we are governed might not be a hot topic on the doorstep but it is fundamental to delivering a change. Who is in power, who has the power and who is accountable and responsible needs a radical and urgent re-think, reform and clarity.

The promised Take Back Control Bill in the first 100 days could provide a framework for empowerment which unlocks local economies but what will the power map really look like in 5 years time and how much power will actually be devolved? A fully devolved North begs some serious questions about the collective power of Mayors and, in time, how a fully devolved England would work with other devolved nations and central government. Who is accountable and what policy is centralised are BIG questions. Add House of Lords reform, a more federal Britain and the creation of Citizens Assemblies and it is all too easy to see the pace and power of devolution potentially being slowed – or rather being put in the “too difficult” box.

Simplicity of who has power and control is central to whatever local government reforms are proposed. Trying to explain our structures and work out who is in charge of XYZ is already far too complex. Promises of “new localism” and further devolution are to be welcomed but we need a long term funded plan and national debate if we are going to feel and deliver real change and see a better Britain after the General Election.

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