Devolution of Powers

Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 13th May 2014.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 11:30 am, 13th May 2014

What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on further devolution of power from Westminster and Whitehall.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I am a member of the local growth committee, which is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and brings together Ministers from a wide range of Departments monthly to focus on local growth programmes, including the delivery of the recommendations of the Heseltine review. To date, we have completed 24 city deals and by the summer all 39 local enterprise partnerships, which have submitted their economic plans, will have been assessed and we will make the announcements of local growth deals at that point.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Further devolution has taken place to Scotland and to Wales, and it has now been a year since the London Finance Commission reported on proposals for devolution to London and the great cities. What progress has my right hon. Friend made in his discussions with Treasury colleagues on devolving property taxes to London and the other great cities of this country?

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is a great champion of empowering our great cities—he is a distinguished leader of a London council—and he knows we have made great progress in this area. He will know that the devolution of business rates, for example, allows London, and other parts of the country, to keep 50% of business rate income. That is worth £3 billion a year to London, and those retained business rates have helped to pay for the £1 billion Northern line extension to Battersea, so this is working in London.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

May I press the Minister a little more on real devolution to the regions of this country? Yorkshire now has no democratic voice; it has no organisation that strategically focuses on Yorkshire in the coming years. Yorkshire has a bigger population than Scotland, so when can we have that kind of focus and leadership?

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. I have a great deal of respect for him but he has not noticed the creation of the combined authority in Yorkshire, which has brought together the councils in the area for precisely that purpose. It has included the signing of a city deal, which has been hailed by the people of Yorkshire, including the leader of Leeds city council, who says:

“This…spells…a fundamental shift in the relationship between Whitehall and the regions. It marks the first steps of a new era”

That will allow the north to “truly control” its “own destiny.” I think the hon. Gentleman should talk to Councillor Wakefield.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

Would the Minister concur with the view that in the event of Scotland rejecting the independence option in September, the option of devolving power from Westminster and Whitehall represents a post-referendum way forward—but that it can be only one side of a two-sided coin, with the other being more re-dispersal of power within and across Scotland? The highlands and islands have lost power from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to Edinburgh, from the Crofting Commission to Edinburgh, and over regional and local control of our emergency services. That is not what those of us who were arguing for devolution before some Scottish National party Members were Members of this House had in mind.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The policy and the practice of this Government has been to devolve power from this place to our great cities across the country. I do not think that has been the policy of the Administration in Scotland, who have centralised power and reduced the influence of our great cities north of the border.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

City deals are a good start, but if our city regions really want to prosper the time has come to give them the power to levy a supplement on the business rates, as the Mayor of London has.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I am a great fan of the hon. Lady’s efforts to promote Birmingham, which she does very successfully in this House, and to make sure that that great city has the powers and the future that are a tribute to its glories in the past. Through the city deals we are giving more control of the very considerable expenditure that currently is made in Birmingham but which is handled by central Government. If we do that, we can come on to address proposals that Birmingham is making on other matters.