Examination of Witnesses

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:40 pm on 23rd June 2022.

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Alex Morton:

I would argue that devolution, or any kind of power structure, tends to work best when there is clear accountability. One of the problems that is beginning to emerge in this country is that you have Mayors, local enterprise partnerships, parish and town councils, district councils, county councils and combined authorities—and on top of that, you have PCCs. The problem comes when people do not know who is responsible for what, and I think that is increasingly becoming a problem for lots of local voters. They cannot see how this quite works.

I am sympathetic to some of the arguments that Will and others are putting forward around trying to get more powers lined up, but I think the thing that is pushing back increasingly is that it is harder for me as a voter, getting on with my daily life, to know exactly who is responsible for what if something is broken. Is it my parish, my district or the Mayor? Then there are unaccountable bits such as LEPs. I spoke to a businessman who said, “I was thinking of investing in the north-east, and my people gave me a whole long list of people I should meet—elected officials—but they couldn’t quite tell me who did what, because it wasn’t very clear. For me, as someone who is thinking about making an investment in the north-east, I would rather have one or two people who have very clearly defined responsibilities for those purposes.”

Part of this is the depressing politics of, “It’s always easier to add an extra layer of politicians than it is to remove another one.” There is sometimes an argument to get rid of some powers and move them up, but it is often the case that what happens is that some powers get shifted up and that layer has to be left in place. Then you end up with a very confused accountability line for voters, businesses, the Highways Agency—the list goes on and on. Everyone who has to interact with them is not sure who they should be talking to, on what and why.