Committee (3rd Day)

Part of Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 29th June 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Janke Baroness Janke Liberal Democrat 3:15 pm, 29th June 2015

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 43 and 44. I know that the Bill is important to local government. Coming as I do from the city, I urge everyone to think of the world-class cities we have in our country and how we can make them even more competitive internationally.

The raising of funding locally is important. The developments in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the deal that has been agreed are a good step forward. I hope the Bill is the start of a journey in building capacity in our city and county regions, in order to have local economies that flourish due to the their leadership. I have looked at some of the written material on this subject, which the London Finance Commission took evidence on. One marker it looked at is how much money central governments give to capital cities, particularly London. One report tells us that Madrid gets 37%, New York 30.9%, Berlin 20.5% and Tokyo 7.7%, but that 73% of London’s budget comes from central government, as the Mayor of London made clear. I think Boris Johnson said that in this country we are comparatively “fiscally infantilised”—his quotes are fairly unique.

That shows the gap between the self-sustaining nature of other international cities, particularly capital cities, and our own. The Minister has been the leader of a council and I am sure she has had the same experience as many of us: when we meet the mayors of our twin cities or attend international gatherings, the feeling from that contingent is one of shock at the very few powers that leaders and mayors in this country have in comparison with others. We must look at this issue. When we discussed the local government bond last week, it did not receive as welcoming a response as we had all hoped. I recognise that the Government feel that they must be cautious and satisfied with the capacity of local government to take on these greater responsibilities, but the Bill’s vision needs to include something on what the future may be and what is desirable. There is plenty of evidence. The City Growth Commission fully recognises in its report that not all cities, counties and regions are ready for full powers. Indeed, many are not as ready as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is. Nevertheless, we must be ambitious and aspire to giving our regions and cities greater powers.

If we look at what is happening in Scotland and Wales, it is understandable that many people in England, particularly in our cities, feel that powers are being given away which are not available to them. The national economy could benefit from more financially independent cities leading their own economies. I urge the Government to give some thought to including something in the Bill—even if it is not as explicit as the amendments—to show what the scope, potential and ambition could be. I hope to hear some more encouraging remarks from the Minister.

I am perhaps not as hopeful about that after previous days, but I hope we can all see the potential of fiscal independence for some of the great cities and counties of this country, and that we will see as a result improved local accountability, and improved ownership and participation from the people living in those regions. Having finance and powers meted out from the centre is not a good recipe for local participation or for pride in one’s area. The leaders and mayors of those international cities will have ample evidence of why we need to set some of our cities and regions free. I beg to move.