Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Labour should decentralise at the pace of the fastest

Ed Miliband’s speech today setting out the emerging conclusions from Andrew Adonis’ review of the jobs and growth agenda is another welcome indication that the Labour party recognises that uniform, centralised, and input-driven national programmes run from Whitehall will neither create the growth we need nor ensure maximum benefit from that growth for our citizens. This is particularly so in this age of austerity, in an era where an incoming Labour government will be very much financially constrained in a way it was not for most of its last term in power. Every public pound has to work that much harder, and the best way of doing that is to ensure that the totality of public expenditure works as far as possible in an integrated way with public services organised around people, families, and the places they live rather than determined through Whitehall silos.

In that sense, there is also an important consistency developing around policy as today’s announcements very much complement speeches made by Ed and Jon Cruddas on public service reform, the move to place-based solutions and proposals that could lead to an integration of economic and social policy that has never been achieved before, with the potential to tackle complex dependency, to bring the most difficult families into being contributors rather than being a drain on society.

Places starting with Manchester, and now Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool and the north-east, have already adopted the combined authority architecture with transport and economic development being strategically managed at the level of the ‘functional economic region’. But the ability to deliver is seriously constrained by excessive centralisation and a lack of integration between government departments. The current government’s response to Michael Heseltine’s thorough analysis of the case for devolution has been feeble, and the growth potential of local economies is suffering as a consequence. Ed Miliband’s response to the Adonis review and to the work of the Local Government Innovation Taskforce is in stark contrast, and places Labour uniquely as the party with the understanding, the plans and the willingness to let go and let places work with government to create a new and prosperous future.

Currently we have a publicly funded skills system which is completely unaligned with the present and future needs of the economy, an alignment that can only be made at a local level. We have a programme to tackle worklessness, the work programme, which is completely disconnected from efforts to tackle deep-rooted social problems faced by those furthest from the workplace.

These issues can only be resolved at the city-region or county-region level but there should be no automatic right to devolved powers. Areas need to demonstrate they have the structures, the partnerships, the capacity, and the robust business plans necessary for effective delivery, but, for those that can, a Labour government needs to be prepared to go at the pace of the fastest in the sound knowledge that other places will be dragged along in their wake.


Richard Leese is leader of Manchester city council. He tweets @SirRichardLeese


Photo: Stephen Douglas

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Richard Leese

is leader of Manchester city council


  • Yes, Richard Leese is right. But localism is only half the story.

    The problem is that there are cross-cutting activities. Activities that cut across regions.

    Industries and their supply chains do not align precisely with one city region or county region. Whether it’s cars or agriculture.

    Research, development and innovation depends increasingly on national and international collaborative networks.

    The task of central government is therefore not just to create a structure within which decentralised authorities and economic activities can function alone, but also one which permits them to work interoperably when they want to.

    Localism is half the story. The other half is achieving consensus standards that are useful in enabling co-operation between and within regions and industries.

  • Some of us remember the city regions idea of old.

    We need to see the small print on this one before we start popping the champagne corks.

    Rebalancing, indeed.

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