As a keen Devolutionista, my decades-long mission has been to see more power devolved away from Westminster and Whitehall and to see greater collaboration, consensus, and voice in the devolved English regions. We are now at a pivotal moment on the road to devolution, with a genuine opportunity to address regional inequalities and promote prosperity and growth. 

The Devo trailblazer regions in Greater Manchester and West Midlands have been given a real chance to do things differently and be held to account.  As in any marriage or partnership there may well be some tension ahead but both parties are joined in a common endeavour and commitment.  The promise of more trailblazers and more devolution signals a major change from DHLUHC in favour of deeper and wider English devolution. The crucial question is, “How much devolved power and control is really on the table?” and “Will Whitehall ever really let go?”

Metro Mayors have been brilliant ambassadors and convenors for their areas, effectively using their ‘soft’ power and voice to great effect.   There is now proof of concept,  so isn’t it time for more devolved regions to be given additional powers and funding to ‘get on with it’ and scale up their ambitious plans to tackle inequalities, drive prosperity, and foster inclusive growth in their respective areas? Are Whitehall officials finally trusting Metro Mayors to deliver? Is this the end of the begging bowl culture? OR will Whitehall proceed with its usual caution and tightly hold onto the purse strings?

The UK is faced with unprecedented challenges and prosperity gaps: the cost of living, energy, the economy, recruitment and retention, the labour market, poor housing, poor connectivity, limited access, choice, and green skills – to name just a few. Therefore, Whitehall must now be willing to unleash the UK’s full devolution potential beyond the M25, if it wants to accelerate growth, productivity and the transition to net zero.

Whatever happens over the next year, further devolution is certain. The trick is to embed good devolution, whether it’s under a Labour Government or not, to ensure that every child, family, or community has the opportunity to prosper and not be left behind. We need devolution and powers that delve deeper into creating growth, which realise Mayoral ambitions and reflect the needs and aspirations of its people, businesses, and communities.

The West Midlands – and Greater Manchester –  has tremendous potential to get this right.  With power also comes responsibility and just maybe we will see them becoming  the engines and powerhouses we need to generate great talent, R&D and innovation and unlock great ambitions. Trailblazers can be the exemplars, proving they can be trusted to deliver infrastructure, connectivity, healthy homes and attractive places where people choose to invest, live, work, rest, and play.

Our Metro Mayors have demonstrated the value of local decision-making which reflects local needs. With trailblazer status they can accelerate growth, tackle inequalities, and truly lead the way to prosperity. 

It is time for Whitehall and Government to trust our Metro Mayors to deliver and let go of the purse strings with confidence. Westminster and Whitehall must not be a barrier but rather help our MCAs level up.  Instead, they need to collaborate to connect people to the careers required and work together to achieve a skills revolution and transition to Net Zero. 

Quite simply, more devolution with real power, money and accountability –  will attract greater investment and – as night follows day  – we will see stronger and more successful local and regional economies.

 

Extracts from Gill Morris’ talk at the Centre for New Midlands conference, ‘Connections for Prosperity’



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