The progression of the devolution agenda in the past few years is hugely welcome. In the long run (if not hopefully sooner) this ‘devolution revolution’ will reshape the state for the better, providing room for innovative transformation in the way public services are delivered and allowing areas to drive local growth.
That the Government understands the power of the argument behind localism and have put it into practice is both significant and radical. Having said that, it is imperative that the devolution deals agreed so far are just first steps in this gradual reversal of the ‘Westminster knows best’ orthodoxy.
Firstly deals need to be agreed with places across the country be they urban or rural, north or south. The hint of breakthroughs being made with more counties is promising in this respect.
Secondly, and as we at Localis have long argued for, more fiscal powers need to be passed over the Treasury’s negotiation table. The business rates and social care precept announcements in the Autumn Statement were significant and welcome in this respect, but the Government shouldn’t stop there. Tourism taxes and the freedom to create extra council tax bands should be next on the list.
Thirdly if the Government is going to be successful in their drive to increase housebuilding rates, local authorities will need to play a substantial role. It is therefore necessary to lift the Housing Revenue Account debt cap and give them more freedom to help meet local housing demand.
Finally local authorities need to be given the breathing space to redevelop their unneeded land and property and thereby generate associated long-term revenue streams. The Government’s preoccupation with asset sales as a source of service funding is short-sighted in this context.
Slowly but surely the decades-long tide of centralisation is turning. Hopefully the shift towards localism will be irrevocable.