CHANCELLOR George Osborne has promised a “revolution” in the way England is governed, with elected mayors presiding over far greater powers in major cities.
Mr Osborne is urging England’s big cities to take on powers over transport, policing and housing under the leadership of directly elected mayors, as part of a radical plan for regional devolution.
However, Labour’s shadow chancellor Chris Leslie said devolution “needs to be part of a UK-wide plan, not a series of one-off deals”, as he warned the Tory approach “threatens to leave many areas behind”.
The Chancellor used his first speech of the new parliament to extend his Northern Powerhouse vision, calling on other urban areas to follow the example of Greater Manchester in taking advantage of new powers.
He said that legislation enabling the changes will be at the heart of the Queen’s Speech as part of his plan to help areas outside London rival the capital and end a “broken” political system which saw power concentrated in Whitehall.
In a speech in Manchester, Mr Osborne said the new powers would only be available to cities which agreed to an elected mayor who “carries the can” for decisions.
He said that Manchester, where powers including transport and health are being devolved, was an example of what was on offer.
Mr Osborne said: “We all know that the old model of trying to run everything in our country from the centre of London is broken. It has led to an unbalanced economy; it has made people feel remote from the decisions that affect their lives. It’s not good for our prosperity; it’s not good for our democracy.”
Mr Osborne said there was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for change in the way the country was run with “radical devolution to the great cities of England”.
Manchester is the first city set to benefit from extra powers, with plans for an elected “metro mayor” for the whole of the Greater Manchester region, and Mr Osborne encouraged other areas to follow.
Mr Osborne said: “A central part of our Queen’s Speech will be a bill to enable a radical new model of city government.
“Here’s the deal: we will hand power from the centre to cities to give you greater control over your local transport, your housing, your skills, your healthcare and we will give you the levers you need to grow your local economy and make sure that local people keep the rewards.
“But it’s right that people have a single point of accountability, someone they elect, who takes the decisions and who carries the can.
“So with these new powers for cities must come new city-wide elected mayors who work with local councils.
“London has a mayor, Greater Manchester has agreed to have a mayor as part of our Northern Powerhouse.
“This new law, at the heart of the Queen’s Speech, will make that happen. I will not impose a mayor on anyone but nor will I settle for less.
“My door is open to any other major city who wants to take this bold step into the future.
“This is a revolution in the way that we govern England, it is power to the working people and means a stronger democracy and greater prosperity for all.”
The Chancellor said the “old model” of running everything from London had “made people feel remote from the decisions that affect their lives”.
Mr Osborne stressed that the government would deliver the devolution package to Scotland and Wales it promised.
He said he wanted to go much further and “deliver radical devolution to the great cities of England” and give them the “levers to grow their local economy”.
However, under the devolution plan, only cities that elected their own mayor would be given control of local transport, housing and skills.
Last year, leaders of Greater Manchester’s ten councils agreed to the area’s first mayoral election, described by Mr Osborne at the time as “a massive moment for the north of England”. The move came two years after the people in Manchester had voted against having a mayor for the city alone.
Labour MP Mr Leslie warned that the government’s “piecemeal approach” could mask big cuts to public spending.
He said: “Labour supports genuine devolution to all parts of England, as well as to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But communities have heard promises before and they will be no clearer today about looming decisions on funding.
“Devolution needs to be part of a UK-wide plan, not a series of one-off deals done by the Chancellor. The government’s piecemeal approach threatens to leave many areas behind.
“In the last parliament, the most deprived communities were hit the hardest and the north had bigger reductions to local government budgets than in the rest of the country.”