I have been an advocate for regional economic power for most of my adult life.
Today the Labour Party unveiled its plans for devolving power away from Westminster and modernising our unwritten constitution. The headlines are dominated by the democratisation (or abolition as this sounds so much sexier) of the House of Lords as this is the ‘easy to understand’ element of the package. It is right to do and something about the Lords, but this is only part of redistributing power. This is political power, but I am just as interested in where economic lies in this country. I have long been an advocate for regional economic growth and regional government along the German lander model. Long term thinking and regional banking linked to regional power. Still the UK remains one of the most centralised political and economic states in the world.
This is a short blog I wrote on LinkedIn partly in response to the ongoing devolution debate in the East Midlands and Leicestershire.
Right from the start of my brief economic development career I have been passionate about genuine regional economic devolution. We remain one of the most centralised countries in the world. I think my second question at PMQs was urging the Prime Minister to speed up delivery of the Regional Assemblies! Sadly, that policy came to nothing. But in recent years Mayoral authorities have captured the imagination.
If you look at many successful similar economies, the regional disparities are less obvious because of genuine regional economic power and devolved government.
Over the coming months and years however, devolution and levelling up will be a large part of our national and local conversation. Of course, there are geographies, personalities and politics involved so the skill is to work through this together to find a common solution.
Indeed, it is already dominating quite a lot my energy at the moment at the LLEP and across the political and business sector in Leicestershire. I believe our role is to help people, and business to weave through the complexities and timelines and understand just what it might mean for us!
I also am grateful to see the Labour Party (UK) and Rt Hon Rachel Reeves articulating the argument for GREATER devolution of economic powers. Still too many plans give us new structures but old ways of ‘bidding’ into central government through limited funding pots. Hopefully a proper debate and conversation can help us gather political consensus .
I do intend to update thoughts about the opportunities and the barriers that exist for Leicester and Leicestershire regularly. I have been committed to a proper economic and political devolution all my life and it may just be within grasp.
But there is some way to go and a lot of hard and sensitive work to be done, and patience will be required. Watch this space as business leaders working with local authorities navigate – with government – a pathway for Leicestershire!
This is the start of the next pahse of the job we started in government in 1997-2010. Devolution of power to Scotland. Wales and the Good Friday Agreement in NI were all part of a modernisation plan. Sadly, Regional Assemblies died a death on defeat in the referendum in the NE, but I wonder if we were just ahead of our time and the levelling up aganda may make them more palatable in 2025.
And finally of course I need to put in my plug for PR. Our First Past the Post system has to be replaced by Proportional Representation. I have been along advocate for Electoral Reform, and we can’t redistribute power without tackling the anomaly of the FPTP system for the House of Commons. It is a longer debate for another day, but one I hope we return to as the membership of the Labour has shifted to support PR. We just need to convince the Leadership to be as bold.