Do Labour have a clue what English devolution is? It seems not, judging by their latest offering on the subject, Reversing our democratic decline: Labour’s plan for Parliament and political reform. The detail is buried a long way in, right at the end of a 12-page document. It arrives only after they’ve swooned, over and over, at the thought of re-organising the Westminster circus that they’re all so in love with. And here it is, all 42 words of it:
“We will devolve an unprecedented £30 billion of resources to city and country regions giving them powers over housing, transport and economic development. We will also allow them to keep any extra business rates generated by growth in the city or region.”
So, just to be clear…
Labour will ‘give’ areas powers. Will the powers be real, or will they come with strings attached that make them worthless? Read your history, Labour. You hate local discretion. Under Blair and Brown you interfered constantly in local decisions and stripped away treasured local autonomy, because you thought you knew best what local areas needed. The Tories have pretended to restore some of that autonomy. They haven’t, but at least they make the effort to pretend. When Labour attack autonomy, they’re brutally honest about it. In government. In opposition, they just lie for England.
Labour will generously ‘allow’ areas to keep any extra business rates generated. Read your history, Labour. Pre-Thatcher, those business rates belonged to local councils as of right and had done for centuries. Who are you to judge whether they should be ‘allowed’ to have them back or not? Wouldn’t it be fairer for local councils to keep all taxes and ‘allow’ Wastemonster to have what little they judge it to be worth?
And Labour will devolve an unprecedented £30 billion. Shamefully centralist of them. How much is £30 billion as a percentage of total central government spending? Just 5.3%.
The amount of funding allocated to Welsh Government departments for 2015/16 is £15.3 billion. So the sum of local areas in England, with 17 times the population of Wales, gets to decide on a budget only twice as big. That means that to achieve parity with Wales, English local areas would need to make the spending decisions on £260 billion. Based on its share of England’s population, Wessex alone would account for £39 billion. But that would mean taking big decisions that affect more than one local area. Exactly! Which is why no meaningful devolution in England is possible without regional government.