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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 will make a little progress if I may, but I may come back to the hon. Gentleman later.

What of the Government’s proposals in the Queen’s Speech that we are debating? We are told that the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill will provide the legislative framework necessary to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and other future deals in large cities in England that choose to have elected mayors, as my hon. Friend Bridget Phillipson mentioned, and in other places. Shortly before the general election, devolution deals were announced in relation to Sheffield and West Yorkshire. In addition to Manchester, we were told that the Government will pilot allowing councils in Cambridgeshire and Cheshire to retain 100% of the growth in business rate revenue so that they can reap the benefit of decisions to boost growth locally.

To pick up my hon. Friend’s point, however, why limit these arrangements to those areas? Why not give every region the opportunity to reap the benefits of the decisions they make to boost growth locally through such deals and through the devolution of business rates? Although I am a big fan, what about areas which, as she said, choose not to have elected mayors? Why should they be denied the benefit of greater local freedoms? Combined authorities, with or without a mayor, can provide a useful vehicle through which to do all this, but one important point for the Government to consider as they proceed with their legislation is this: what about areas which do not have or do not desire a combined authority, and how will they get more powers? My criticism of what has been proposed—I accept that we need to see the Bill—is that it does not seem to go far enough and is rather piecemeal. The Government need to find a way of ensuring that all areas can enjoy greater autonomy.

The Government say that their Scotland Bill aims to deliver in full the Smith commission agreement, to which the five main Scottish political parties signed up in November 2014. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the vow—a promise made and a promise to be delivered —made on the eve of last year’s referendum is delivered in full to make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world. As we set out in our manifesto, we will work to amend the Bill to give the Scottish Parliament the final say on social security and the power to top up UK benefits. This settlement must recognise the strength and security offered by being part of the UK, which means retaining the pooling and sharing of resources that flow from the Barnett formula. It is imperative that that is protected and, for the sake of the Scottish economy and public services, one hopes that the SNP’s economically illiterate plans for full fiscal autonomy are dropped. The worst-case scenario for Scotland would be the hon. Members of the SNP in this House pressing for full fiscal autonomy and the Tory Government delivering it.