The Government are clear that we must disperse power in our society. That is why we have initiated a historic shift away from Westminster to put our counties, cities, towns, villages, neighbourhoods and citizens in control of their own affairs. I look forward to seeing the final report on the relationship between local and central Government from the hon. Gentleman’s Select Committee inquiry as we continue the process of reform.
The Deputy Prime Minister will know that three out of the four nations within the United Kingdom now enjoy some form of devolution; the one that does not enjoy any devolution, effectively protected by statute, is England. Will he engage with local government at the right moment to discuss how devolution can be made effective through local government, and will he also engage with the Select Committee, which is due to report on this very matter at the end of this month?
I certainly stand shoulder to shoulder with the hon. Gentleman on his long-standing critique of the over-centralisation of power in Westminster and Whitehall. I know that he has welcomed some of the initiatives that we have taken. They do not provide all the answers, but they are significant steps in the right direction. The retention of 50% of business rates by local authorities is probably the biggest act of fiscal decentralisation in England for several years. The city deals, in my view, are a radical template of a wholesale transfer of responsibilities, ranging from transport and capital investment to skills and training, to local authorities. The question that the hon. Gentleman’s Committee is posing is whether that can be done in a more systematic, neat and formalised way, and I am certainly open to look at any suggestions in that respect. It is the tradition in this country to do things in a slightly more informal and uneven way, but his Committee’s report will be taken very seriously by us in government.
As my hon. Friend knows, whether it is in planning, control over business rates, significant powers over skills, transport and capital investment in our cities or in the enactment of a general power of competence—whereby we recognise in law for the first time the general power of competence for local authorities—I believe that, in all of those areas, as well as, of course, the new referendum powers available to local neighbourhoods and local authorities, we have made a significant step towards creating a more decentralised nation.