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Devolution and Growth Across Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 3rd June 2015.

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Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 1:47 pm, 3rd June 2015

I would say two things to the right hon. Lady. First, when I was in her area, I heard so many complaints, particularly during the last Parliament, about the abolition of Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency. Secondly, those involved in the renaissance in the automotive sector in particular—the likes of Jaguar Land Rover and so on—tell us how helpful and important it was that the previous Labour Government established the Automotive Council.

As I was saying, I want to move beyond the economic case to make the democratic case. We know that levels of trust are higher in decisions made locally, but we also know that the contempt people have for politics is fuelled not only by a sense that we are all in it for ourselves, but by a sense of powerlessness—a sense of citizens’ powerlessness in shaping what the system does for them and a lack of confidence in politicians’ power to change things in the face of powerful global forces. What better antidote to that sense of powerlessness is there than to give people more power in their localities and communities?

This is very much my personal view of what we in this House are all guilty of, but people are desperate for an end to the partisan point scoring we sometimes see in this place. There is an increasing desire for politicians to transcend the partisan bickering that characterises a lot of debate here. On that point, I should refer to the last hour in the Chamber. We all mourn the loss of Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader and former Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. He was a great and brilliant parliamentarian. He was so popular, and there has been such a huge outpouring of affection since his sad passing, in part because he could transcend the Punch and Judy of this place. If we are honest, it is fair to say that our colleagues in regional and local government are often far better than us in putting aside party political differences and working together. An example often cited is the way in which Lord Heseltine, a Conservative, collaborated with our Labour colleagues in Liverpool over the years. That led to his being awarded the freedom of the city by the Labour administration there in 2012. Let us look at the work of the cross-party London Councils body, which has rolled out its successful apprenticeship scheme across the Labour and Conservative-run boroughs of the capital. That is another reason for devolution, and it would actually help our democracy.