My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for her very clear introduction to the Bill and for showing us how it can be a creative, flexible way into the future. It ticks many of the boxes that we are concerned about today: localism, devolution, inclusivity, electoral accountability and enabling growth. I will make three very short points and ask three questions of the Minister.
The first is on unevenness. We have just heard about Truro and the rural south-west; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich lobbies me about the east of England and the very different economic, social and political contexts. The east Midlands, where I work, is complex, with cities such as Derby, Nottingham and Leicester and very rural hinterlands. There is therefore a lot of unevenness in the territory that we are trying to use to enable economic growth and prosperity. How will those very different areas use the freedom the Bill offers? As we have heard, there is also unevenness between London and other parts of the country. Finally, there is the unevenness of some opting in and others opting out. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, gave us a very helpful picture with the football leagues—some are “non-league clubs”, in a way, such is the complexity. If there is unevenness, what priorities will the Government have to manage it, so that we do not prioritise just some areas to flourish, while others are “non-league clubs”, to use that image?
Secondly, on London and the northern powerhouse, the Minister spoke about the redistribution of power and the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, spoke about an historic shift. This is an historic shift because local government has been about “place”, and the identity of a place that joins all kinds of people, of all kinds of cultures and economic positions, around it. The Bill proposes that local government will be not about a place, per se, but about building places into units that deliver economic growth, which is a reconfiguration of places. That may raise some interesting questions about local cultures—what will it mean to live in Hull if you are part of a great conglomeration that can deliver economic growth, but which perhaps does not have the sensitivities for that kind of local government?
There is a very interesting question about cities and the role of London. Many would argue that the process of changing our understanding of “place” is happening to nations too: that nations are less and less important as factors in the global economy and the global ecology, and that the drivers of economics are global cities and their hinterlands. There is a lot of truth in that argument. I therefore ask the Minister: with this desire to redistribute power and properly to develop economic resources across the country, how will the Government take responsibility for a partnership between London as a global centre that needs a particular level of investment and development, and the way that other parts fit around it? I do not think that it is a simple matter of distributing, but of recognising that we benefit from having a major international city, and then asking how the other bits fit around it.
My last point concerns the shift from inviting people to participate in politics by voting for their local authority, to participating in the creation of these economic growth units. This means that local government will now be carried out not just by politicians—although mayors will be elected, and I, too, wonder whether mayors will have the leadership expertise for this large task. Local government will now be the responsibility of politicians and business, which is good. Businesses will contribute to growing the local economy and the making of the place that is a viable unit for it; but how will we deliver what the Minister called “allowing the aspirations of people in the city to share in the rewards”?
There is a danger that in this new politics, you might be able to vote for a mayor but all the deals will be fixed by politicians and businesses. What about ordinary people with jobs, “less than jobs” or no jobs? How will ordinary citizens experience a redistribution of power in the economic sense? If these spaces are about economic growth, how will the Government ensure that the proper partnership between politicians and business also connects with the aspirations of ordinary people, who need jobs, better jobs and more security? If the shift is from political participation to economic participation, what will that mean for the ordinary citizen? How will the Government make sure that that interest has a say not just every five years, when people vote for the mayor, but in the way that these partnerships operate on the ground?