Lib Dem leader sets out his vision for North East devolution - no matter how the Scots vote

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is calling for decentralisation and devolution for the North whether Scotland vote for independence or not

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who will launch a report calling for a major programme of devolution within England in the decade after the next election
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who will launch a report calling for a major programme of devolution within England in the decade after the next election

The Deputy Prime Minister is calling for a decade of devolution in the North - no matter how Scotland votes next Thursday.

With less than a week to go until Scotland goes to the polls, a new report published on Friday by Newcastle-based think tank IPPR North sets out a master plan to shift powers held in Whitehall to the major cities and counties of England.

The 10-year timetable for a federal government in England, regardless of how the Scots vote in their independence referendum next Thursday, is being launched by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

The report sets out a road map to devolve powers over the North’s economy, education, work, housing, transport, criminal justice, probation and the police.

The Deputy Prime Minister said: “If ever there was a time to push for action on decentralisation, it’s now.

“You only need look at how the Scottish Referendum debate has re-energised people’s interest and engagement in politics over the last few weeks to see that this is an idea whose time has come.

“Over the last decades, we’ve seen a wave of new powers shifting out to every nation of the UK, except England, with successive Governments, from both the left and right, concentrating power in Whitehall and relying too much on the City of London’s profits to power the rest of our country’s economy.

“The facts speak for themselves - for every 10 private sector jobs created in the South under ten years of the last Government, there was only one job generated in the North.

“With a new consensus now emerging amongst the UK’s three main political parties to extend devolution and decentralisation in the future, I believe we can push forward in realising our ambitions for a stronger, fairer Britain.”

In August, the Deputy Prime Minister launched a call for ideas on ways to turn the North of England into an economic powerhouse.

He called his inquiry the Northern Futures project; a new approach to policy-making which means that power is given to the people who live and work in the North rather than decisions being made by politicians and civil servants in Whitehall.

He told The Journal: “The reality is that our great cities like Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield aren’t just competing with each other for investment. They’ve also got to stand up against other global cities Frankfurt, Sao Paulo, Madrid and Shanghai.

“We need to think about how we can exploit the greater local powers we’ve created to accelerate economic growth across the North.

“That’s why I’ve launched our new Northern Futures Project.

“This is an open call to local leaders, businesses and experts in housing, transport, planning, science and education across the North of England to answer the fundamental question: How do we build on the strengths in the North to create an economic core in the heart of the region that can compete with the biggest cities and regions in the world?

“All of us have ideas and I want to ensure that Government can capture and develop them.”

IPPR North’s 10-year-plan looks at 40 different functions of government which need to be devolved and covers powers and budgets held in 13 different Whitehall departments.

The report argues for five-year funding settlements and an independent body to take forward further central-local funding reforms.

Ultimately, it argues for property taxes and business rates to be devolved to combined authorities and, eventually, a proportion of income tax to be assigned to them.

The report argues that a new wave of combined authorities should be established, including ‘county combined authorities’ in two-tier areas, with all combined authorities setting out clear plans for partnership-working and enhanced democratic accountability.

It says that decentralisation should be ‘asymetrical’ because not every area will want, or be able, to proceed at the same pace.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: “Whichever way Scotland votes next week, Edinburgh will get new powers and widen the gap with local leaders across England.

“England has waited patiently while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been given ever great devolution. Now is the time to redress the balance and devolve powers to English city-regions.

“England’s 80-year experiment with centralisation has failed. It’s England’s turn for a ‘devo-more’ moment and there is a growing political consensus in Westminster on the need to answer ‘the English question’.

“Our plan for a decade of devolution is a practical roadmap that politicians can rally round.”

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