“To change the conversation, we have to change who is part of it”

Why devolution matters after all

This may come as a shock to some, but “devolution” is not a very sexy word. It is not particularly popular with headline writers or SEO specialists, which goes some way to explain why you don’t read too many news stories about the joys of shifting power from Westminster down to local levels.

But scratch the surface of many of today’s headlines and you will find that devolution is at the heart of many of the biggest issues of today.

Take for example the problems surrounding Northern Rail. Speaking as a regular user of Southern Rail’s risible excuse for a train service, I feel the pain of all those inconvenienced by the operator’s new timetable, which was caused massive disruption and heartache for all.

And like the case of Southern Rail, the frustration at Whitehall’s response, or rather lack of, has been palpable. Once again, it is up to regional and local politicians like the Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to stand firm, while government ministers appear to be ineffectual.

Then there is the “B-word” – Brexit – the defining issue of our time. Whatever your views on the referendum and its results, there can be no doubt it will shape this country for generations to come. For some, it is a historic opportunity to fundamentally change how this country operates, for others it is the economic and political equivalent of a suicide mission.

But what Brexit cannot and must not be is a power-grab by Westminster. Britain is already one of the most centralised nations in the Western World and the gulf between the “Westminster village” and whole swathes of the country has never been greater. A large number of people believe the status quo is no longer working for them or offering them the opportunities they would expect in one of the largest and most developed economies in the world.

If we are to meet issues like building a transport system fit for the 21st century, the housing crisis or giving young people the skills they need to help Britain as a whole grow, then Westminster will have to give up some of the powers and money that it likes to hold on to.

Fortunately, we have seen a new generation of civic leaders emerge, like Andy Burnham, Doncaster Council’s chief executive Jo Miller and Leeds City Council’s leader Judith Blake emerge, who are ready to fight their corner and demand that central government listens to them. 

Westminster’s bandwidth is already stretched to breaking point with Brexit and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Too many pressing issues are being put on the back burner or in the tray marked “too difficult”. It is time to let the regions and local authorities fill the gap left by the national politicians and tackle these issues head on.

Jamie Hailstone is the senior reporter at New Start

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* These blogs are a collection of thoughts and opinions from people living or working in the North. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the People's Powerhouse.




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