Local Government Reform: Greater London — [Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:02 am on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 10:02 am, 17th October 2018

This is a really interesting debate, which is broader than London. It could be argued that if we develop a real settlement that pushes power down to communities, that ought to benefit every community in England. That will be the spirit in which I approach my response to some of the points that have been made.

A lot of the devolution debate and discussion, certainly over the past five or six years, has been about trying to get power from Westminster down to the next level, wherever that might be; in London, it is the capital, but elsewhere it will be metro areas or even some county deals in which counties have come together. That has been necessary because we are still a very centralised country, and too much power is contained not in this place—people who work here who believe that they are powerful are seriously deluded—but in Whitehall, where it still sits. We want to wrestle as much power as possible from civil servants, who are disconnected from the communities that are affected by the decisions that they make, and give that power back to local people.

That has to be at the most appropriate level, because the organisation of services is complex. Some are absolutely rooted in a localised geography, but in other cases it will make far more sense for a service to be decided and delivered at a different level—whether it is a district, a metropolitan or London borough, London itself, or a regional grouping—but it has to be right for that circumstance and for the decision that is being devolved down. The assumption should always be local.

If any power is devolved, a test should be in place to ask the question: where is it best to place this new power that is being devolved? For example, in places where we see devolution of the adult education budget, there has not really been a conversation about whether a combined authority or even a Greater London arrangement is the best place for that budget to sit, versus a local authority. That is odd, because that debate is taking place in other areas—such as Greater Manchester, which has the most advanced health devolution settlement in England; that settlement is devolved to the 10 local authorities, not to the combined authority or to the Mayor.

This move that we are taking as a nation is interesting, but it is not neat, it is not pretty and it is massively confusing for a lot of people. That does not mean that it is not necessary. We need to prove concept and prove that devolution can be made to work. We need to prove that to people who do not believe that devolution can work, and who believe that to get fairness and equity across the country, we should organise from the capital so that everyone gets the same. They are the people we need to convince.