4.19 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Let me say at the outset that I believe in the principle that, as far as possible, decisions should be taken at the level of government closest to the people who those decisions will affect.

After local government reorganisation in the 1970s, a Greater Manchester county council was created that brought together the 10 local authorities around the city of Manchester. It was not seen as a great success and was abolished a few years later, in 1986. It was seen as an artificial creation. However, we are now seeing, in effect, the recreation of that body, albeit by a different process and with a different name. We now have a Greater Manchester combined authority. We already have an interim mayor covering the area of the same 10 authorities that together made up the Greater Manchester county council. The problem that my

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constituents have with the whole concept of a Greater Manchester council is that they do not see themselves as living within a county of Greater Manchester. It is an artificial construct. Very few say that their address is Bury, Greater Manchester; they say that it is Bury in Lancashire. In Ramsbottom, people still ask why they were separated from their historical roots in Rossendale valley.

On Bury Council, which covers my constituency and that of Bury South, there are 51 councillors. Across the 10 local authorities that together make up the Greater Manchester combined authority, there are no fewer than 645 councillors. It is therefore no surprise when people ask me, “If 645 people can’t sort things out for us, what difference are 646 going to make?” It is a difficult question to answer. Very few of my constituents think that the answer to their particular problem will be the creation of a new tier of local government. Recreating that new tier above the existing 10 councils creates the danger of powers being devolved down to the new tier rather than down to where they could go if the new tier had not been created. Thus we finish up with decisions being taken further away from, rather than closer to, the people who are affected by them. I hope that safeguards can be included in the Bill as it passes through its later stages—for example, to provide a clear mechanism for a council to leave a combined authority, should it so choose, without being penalised for doing so.

Fortunately, I do not have to rely just on anecdotes and the many conversations I have had with my constituents to know what the people of Bury think about the idea of having an elected mayor, because back in July 2008 they voted in a borough-wide referendum, and they rejected the idea by 15,425 votes to 10,338. I would hazard a guess that the margin would be even greater if the referendum question related to the whole of Greater Manchester. I support the idea of my constituents having a direct say on this proposal in such a referendum.

The Bill is largely technical, so let me deal briefly with some of the detail within it. I believe that the new mayors, if we are to have them, should be elected by the first-past-the-post system. Whichever candidate gets the most votes should be elected. That is the tried-and-tested method of elections in this country, and I see no need to change it.

I do not believe that 16 and 17-year-olds should vote in these local elections. Let me give just one example of the unintended consequences of such a move. If someone votes in local elections, it is reasonable to assume that they should be paying council tax. A single parent with a 16-year-old living at home would, at present, be entitled to a 25% single person’s discount on their council tax. If their son or daughter gets the right to vote, should they not then lose their 25% discount and have to pay their council tax in full? This has not been fully thought through.

I hope, for the sake of my constituents, that this Bill does bring about the benefits that have been suggested, but I do not think that many of them will be losing much sleep about it. For all that we get worked up about it, they want to see real improvements in the services they receive rather than tinkering about with the mechanics of local government.

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4.24 pm

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): I am very pleased to be able to speak in this debate. I want to support the Bill and the principles at its heart, and to join many Labour colleagues in paying tribute to the Secretary of State for the way in which—with the guile, cunning and charm for which he has become famous—he has pursued the principles we are debating. This afternoon, I want briefly to encourage the Secretary of State to be more flexible on the one hand and more ambitious on the other.

I was not actually born in a town hall, although at times it felt like that. I am the son of a local government officer who, inspired by the practical idealism of the new towns movement, spent his career in town halls around the country. I grew up in a home in which the practical idealism of the Attlee Government was very much part of the atmosphere. I support the Bill not because of that upbringing, but because of my experience as a Minister in the Cabinet Office, in No. 10, in the Treasury and, most importantly, as the first Minister for the west midlands. Every lesson that I learned in that time in government taught me that decisions are made faster and better if they are taken locally.

Many Members of the House will have seen the glory that is the new New Street station. For years, Whitehall ran around the issues, ran away from the issues and failed to get the funding in place. It was only once we had a Minister for the west midlands that we were able to get people in a room, bang heads together and make sure that the deal was done. Four or five years later we can celebrate exactly what can be done when we get power out of Whitehall and vested more locally.

I want the Secretary of State to be more flexible in his approach to metro mayors. As a keen student of local government history, he will know that we only ever make incremental progress in this country. If we can encourage more power to leave Whitehall by encouraging authorities to come together, we should not let the issue of metro mayors get in the way, but just get on with it.

The real message I want to give the Secretary of State is that he needs to be more ambitious. The Bill strengthens his hand in relation to local councils in this country, but not in relation to other Departments. When I was Chief Secretary, we invented the new concept of Total Place, which showed the ideas and savings that could come from putting services together. I was also the chair of the Manchester Whitehall group, and I had to negotiate with other Departments for the powers we gave to Manchester. I can tell the Secretary of State that that was like drawing teeth. If he is to make the impact we think he could, he needs powers in relation to other Departments to force them to give away the powers that will make the difference locally.

I will illustrate that point with a few comments about my home town of Birmingham and the combined authority of the west midlands. As the Secretary of State knows, the challenge we face is that wealth per head in our region is 20%, or about £4,000 a year, below the national average. Our knowledge economy—the jobs of the future—is actually shrinking, not getting bigger. In fact, it has 2,000 fewer jobs than it had before the recession, whereas other regions, such as the north-west, have about 35,000 more jobs. We can expand opportunity for the people we serve only if we can create a bigger knowledge economy for the years to come.

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We therefore need more powers locally over science, skills and start-ups. First, on science, I want our region to be the enterprise and engineering capital of the country, but our universities currently draw just 3.5% of their income from the science budget. We need a bigger science budget and a bigger budget for the work that universities and industry can do together, and we need our combined authority to be able to shape those projects locally for the years to come. We have great firms, such as Jaguar Land Rover, and the serious gaming industry around Coventry, but at the moment we do not have enough resource or power to put together our university powerhouses with our industrial powerhouses to do great things for the future.

Secondly, we need more powers on skills. We need to create in the west midlands a German-style dual-track system that would allow our young people to take an earn-while-you-learn route up to degree level skills. Right now, just 200 young people in the west midlands are on such a route to a degree level skill, including just 70 in the great city of Birmingham and just 10 in Wolverhampton. We should be giving at least half of our young people an earn-while-you-learn route to a degree. That would be in line with Government policy, but we cannot do it because we cannot bring together apprenticeship agencies and colleges, we cannot co-ordinate with academies and university technical colleges, and we do not have much latitude to co-ordinate with universities. We could pull that together in a new system in the west midlands, if only we had the power and resources to do so.

Thirdly, we need more power to support an entrepreneurial revolution in our region. That was always the way in which we made our fortune. A new business is opening every 43 minutes in the west midlands. Up in Manchester, 20% more businesses are opening than in the west midlands. We need to be able to deliver more enterprise training and more start-up loans. Those are the kinds of powers that we need to make a difference.

That is why I say that the Secretary of State needs to be more ambitious with the Bill. He needs more powers in relation to other Whitehall Departments if he is fully to achieve his ambitions. If we get that right, there is a great deal more that we can do. There is no better example than Sir Albert Bore, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) praised earlier, of what can be done. I hope that the Secretary of State gives us the powers to get on with the job.

4.31 pm

Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con): I listened intently to the shadow Secretary of State’s response to the Secretary of State. He suggested that the devolution agreements so far had been imposed on local communities by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can only speak from our experience in Cornwall, which is of a rural area that has advanced a significant way into the nuts and bolts of the detail of a deal. We are way beyond aspiration. I believe that there will be a Cornwall deal.

I assure the House that that deal comes in response to the long-standing desire of the Cornish people for a greater say in key decisions and greater control over the delivery of public services such as transport, health and

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economic regeneration. Cornwall Council, health leaders and the six MPs have been intensely involved in the development of the Cornwall deal with the Secretary of State, not the Chancellor, and it does the good people of Cornwall and all those who have worked so hard to get where we are today a disservice to suggest that it has been imposed from the top down by the Treasury.

As a Cornwall MP, I have good reason to welcome the Bill. Our keenest challenges in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly are addressing the wage gap with the rest of the UK and bringing meaningful integration between health and social care. Cornwall should no longer accept its low-wage economy. Our low wages harm people’s ability to access the housing they need, encourage an exodus of young people as they seek well-paid jobs elsewhere, reduce the money that people have to spend in our town centres and hamper efforts to provide well-resourced community facilities and services.

What the Bill allows and the Cornwall deal achieves is a greater resolve than ever before to tackle the well-documented deprivation in Cornwall. They provide the tools to address low wages by giving local elected representatives and business leaders the necessary powers, tools and resources to create the skills and jobs we need. In Cornwall and on Scilly, we welcome that and relish the opportunity to use the expertise and goodwill that exists locally to sort out the problem of our low-wage economy.

More than ever, we need the meaningful integration of health and social care in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly. The current scene is confusing and wasteful, and patients are not getting the care and support that they need and deserve, and that could be available to them. The Cornwall deal brings all those who are concerned around the table. Already, work is being done to understand how services can be integrated, patient care improved and resources concentrated where they are needed most. The deal builds on pioneering work that is already taking place to integrate health and social care, particularly by the Penwith pioneer project in my west Cornwall constituency. It is my belief that the Bill will increase the pace of the development of integrated services.

Finally, Cornwall Council has led the way over recent years in devolving responsibilities to town and parish councils. The problem is that there seems to be a habit of devolving responsibilities with no funds attached. There is an appetite among town and parish councils to take on services so that they can be delivered closer to home. I would welcome it if the Government took the lead, through the Bill, in enabling local councils to cluster together, if they choose to do so, to take on services and receive the funding that they need to deliver them for the people they serve.

4.34 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I will start by breaking the habit of a lifetime and agreeing with some of the contribution made by the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). I also urge the Secretary of State not to get too carried away with identity, and I will let him into a secret: I am a proud Mancunian by birth, and also a proud Dentonian. I suppose I am a Greater Mancunian, because I was born two months after the local government reorganisation. Many of my constituents will have allegiances to their old historical counties. Someone who lives in Denton and Audenshaw

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in my constituency is Lancastrian, but someone who lives in Dukinfield is from Cheshire and proud of it. Someone who lives in Reddish, Heaton Chapel or Heaton Norris in the Stockport part of my constituency has dual identity, because they started off in Lancashire in the 20th century, and were transferred to Cheshire when the area became part of Stockport county borough. People identify with their old historical communities as much as they do with the reality of local government administration on the ground.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Bury North in that when the Government of the late Baroness Thatcher abolished the old Greater Manchester Council—along with other metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council across the river from here—she did not do so to create a patchwork of unitary government. The then Government recognised that it was impossible to create unitary government in the metropolitan counties because some functions had to be carried out at county-wide level. We ended up with a hotch-potch of joint boards: the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority, Greater Manchester waste disposal authority, Greater Manchester fire authority, and Greater Manchester police authority. There were still functions at county level.

The difference was that in many respects those bodies were less accountable than the old Greater Manchester Council which, for all its faults, at least had directly elected representation. The problem with joint boards—we see this today with Transport for Greater Manchester—is that although they include councillor representatives, the district councils do not hold those councillors or that joint body to account. In some respects, having some level of direct accountability at city region level makes sense.

My concern is about the accountability of the individual. I accept that the mayor will be accountable to the electorate every four years in local elections, but the difference between the London model and that proposed in Greater Manchester is that a small Assembly at London level holds the Mayor of London to account. It has a call-in procedure and can question the Mayor, but I do not see where that function lies in the Greater Manchester model. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that he expects the call-in procedure and key procedures on cabinet decisions at local government level to apply to the mayoral model for metro mayors, and I look forward to him fleshing that out.

Part of the problem with a combined authority—certainly the Greater Manchester model—is that each of the 10 council leaders in Greater Manchester will have an executive portfolio. They are the Executive, and there is nobody to hold them to account. There is no clear process to call in cabinet decisions that affect one or more metropolitan districts in Greater Manchester.

Barbara Keeley: My hon. Friend is making excellent points, as did the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), with whom I found myself in agreement for the first time in my 10-year parliamentary career. The key point is the lack of accountability, which will not be improved in the ways we are looking for. Transport for Greater Manchester has been doing a major infrastructure project, and my constituents are at the end of their tether about the lack of accountability.

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They and I do not know who to go to, and it has been a disaster. My hon. Friend’s point about joint bodies is right.

Andrew Gwynne: I am glad my hon. Friend mentions Transport for Greater Manchester. One of the functions that will be passed to the mayor is transport and the regulation of the bus network. I very much welcome and look forward to that. I have to say, however, that I hope it is done in a better way than some of TfGM’s current franchising arrangements. We have a deregulated bus system, but one area over which TfGM has responsibility for setting a network is school buses. Just this term, we have the bizarre situation whereby TfGM has awarded the school bus contract for Fairfield school—where, incidentally, my daughter studies—to Stagecoach for the mornings and Belle Vue buses for the evenings, and neither will accept the other’s tickets. TfGM has set that contract and I think it is absolutely barmy. Quite frankly, if it cannot get it right with a school bus service I really worry about its capacity to set the whole network in Greater Manchester. I therefore hope we get better accountability and decision making.

On devolution of health, my one concern is this: who is ultimately accountable for the NHS in Greater Manchester? It is not clear from the memorandum of understanding signed between the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and the Government. The mayor seems not to be part of that memorandum at this stage and I hope very much that that is reviewed. If I were an NHS provider in Greater Manchester, to whom do I look to make the decisions? Is it NHS England, the combined authority, the mayor, or am I looking in all directions? That lack of clarity really needs to be sorted out, so we have clear levels of responsibility.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): My hon. Friend, a fellow Mancunian, is making an excellent impassioned speech about devolution. We are in favour of the devolution package, and the interim mayor, Tony Lloyd, will have powers over transport, business rates, skills retention and spatial planning. However, the problem as it stands is that the people of Greater Manchester do not know where the health portfolio is going to sit. Who will be accountable? At the moment, it will be one of the 10 local leaders. The devolution deal, as currently put forward by the Government, is not joined up.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need absolute clarity from the Department of Health. I understand that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be having those discussions, but before devolution takes place Greater Manchester MPs need clarity.

On fire and rescue, the intention in Greater Manchester is for police and crime commissioner functions, and, eventually, fire and rescue, to go to the mayor. That might require an amendment to the Local Government Act 1985, which set up the Greater Manchester fire and rescue authority. I do not see anything in this Bill relating to that. Perhaps it can be dealt with by a statutory instrument. I hope the Secretary of State will confirm that the intention is still to devolve them.

I want to make a plea about local government funding. Greater Manchester has agreed to a pooling and sharing of business rates. I very much support that, because

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some parts of Greater Manchester have more potential to grow the economy than other districts in the county, and it is right that we share that wealth across the whole of the conurbation. The funding is still very important, because we have a low council tax base. Unless there is a stratospheric increase in business growth, we will not fill the gap. That is where Ministers’ plans might fail.

4.44 pm

Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con): I am pleased to rise in broad support of the Bill not only as a Member of Parliament for Hampshire, an area that has put forward a proposal for a combined authority, but, like many Members, as a former councillor. I served as deputy leader of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, representing a ward within my constituency, and saw at first hand the potential local government has to deliver for local people.

The borough council invested its resources, on behalf of taxpayers, into regeneration schemes, and I was pleased to sign off a number of projects bringing a plethora of new businesses to Basingstoke, ranging from a market-leading Waitrose and John Lewis at Home combined store to a small Costa Coffee drive-through. In making those investments—I stress that they are investments, not spending—the borough council was able to keep its council tax, which is unchanged for six years, the sixth lowest in the country while having the sixth highest spend per head.

David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that freezing council tax is a good opportunity for local authorities to not only provide efficient services, but help hard-working people during difficult financial times?

Mr Jayawardena: My hon. Friend knows from his distinguished service as leader of a borough council that it is absolutely right for local councils to do their best by their local communities. Indeed, the Hampshire combined authority is doing what he says. It states:

“We will live within our means”.

That is embedded in its proposal, and that is one reason why I want further devolution of powers. Councils should be able to take responsibility for their own funding, and local people should be able to shape the future of their area.

As Hampshire’s proposal recognises, it is of the utmost importance to have control over planning and infrastructure, too. The Hampshire combined authority proposal states:

“We will protect the local character of our diverse area”.

Combined authorities provide a great opportunity for Government to devolve more planning powers to a local level. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. As the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) has said, combined authorities should be able to set out new strategic plans identifying broad areas where housing growth can be developed in a timely fashion, where new homes will genuinely support growth by supporting economies that are underperforming, and where infrastructure investment is required to unlock the right development.

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): As a fellow Hampshire MP, I am delighted that my hon.

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Friend has been able to speak. Does he agree that the Bill will enable us to work with the Hampshire authority to build infrastructure, particularly a fast railway, which will help the southern part of the county?

Mr Jayawardena: My hon. Friend is a passionate champion of faster railways, and I agree that it is important not only that we build the right homes in the right places at the right time, but, crucially, that we have the right infrastructure. She makes her point very well indeed. I will come back to infrastructure in a moment, because it is a very important issue.

The Secretary of State has said:

“We are determined to end the hoarding of power in Whitehall”.

I commend that, but it should apply to Bristol, too.

The Hampshire combined authority proposal says:

“We will build more homes”.

In return, instead of a planning inspector deciding whether or not an appeal is justified, we should trust local people to monitor and review decisions made in their own local area. Combined authorities should be able to set out that important open spaces between settlements are maintained by restricting the growth of some towns and villages ever outwards, preventing distinct communities, each with their own unique charm, from becoming urban sprawl. And yes, combined authorities should be given powers over green belt, including the ability to create new green belt, providing certainty about the future to residents and communities as part of a development deal.

I have always been clear, however, that I want brownfield development to be prioritised, instead of greenfield being developed unnecessarily. There is plenty of brownfield land in my own constituency and in neighbouring areas, although it is not all being promoted for development at present. I would like North East Hampshire to become a beacon of top-quality, 21st-century, architecturally mighty brownfield regeneration. It is such a shame to see rundown buildings, but my constituency has such an opportunity. I genuinely believe that the demographics and geography of North East Hampshire mean that communities could be transformed for the better, uplifted in look and feel, and improved in quality of offer. That will happen through assembling landownership in the centre of communities, building iteratively through an area and sticking to a common vision.

To return to my hon. Friend’s point, the Hampshire combined authority proposal states:

“We will invest in infrastructure”.

It is clear that infrastructure improvements are an absolute necessity, and Government has a role in that part of the equation. Whether the land is brownfield or greenfield, infrastructure is critical in ensuring that these developments not only provide homes for our friends and children but take the opportunity to improve the way of life for existing residents. Whether the land is brownfield or greenfield, development should not come before infrastructure. That is why I welcome Hampshire councils’ proposal, which specifically sets out a 10-year transport investment fund to be used significantly to improve our roads and public transport. That is a good start, but in planning our future we must also look to the past. As I mentioned a moment ago, we should think about the existing infrastructure deficit and how it can be mitigated so that existing residents end up with a better deal.

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It is only right that infrastructure should be delivered alongside any new development rather than communities being left hoping for improvements in the future when our roads are already jammed and our trains are already crammed. I urge the Secretary of State to consider how infrastructure deficits can be remedied through devolution and how communities can secure infrastructure improvements ahead of agreeing to development—whether through strategic plans, local plans or neighbourhood plans—so that they are confident that infrastructure will be delivered, as that has too often not been the case. There is another way to fund infrastructure, of course. If regeneration is led by combined authorities and by local government, the profit that local government can make from redevelopment if it owns the land allows reinvestment in infrastructure or for the benefit of taxpayers. That is particularly important with brownfield sites, since sites might not be viable after taking into account a developer’s profit if they are also required to pay the community infrastructure levy and section 106 at the normal level.

Through that vision of active local government, brownfield regeneration will genuinely benefit local people rather than simply the shareholders of a developer through improved infrastructure and lower council tax. I strongly believe that local government has a role to play in outlining how it wishes comprehensively to improve its built environment.

That takes me to compulsory purchase orders. I believe, perhaps unusually for a Conservative, that CPOs can be in the public interest, and they should be streamlined. Through devolution, there is a great opportunity to do that. The national infrastructure plan identified that it was critical in making available more brownfield land.

Let us be ambitious about devolution. Let us devolve powers to local councils to decide the future development of their area. Let us reform compulsory purchase powers to kick-start brownfield regeneration and improve communities for residents new and old. Let us enable that much-needed infrastructure for existing communities, and, above all, let us deliver devolution that has democratic roots in the community, in keeping with the core purpose of devolution—greater power for local people and a greater Britain for all.

4.52 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I shall support the Bill on Second Reading. It follows closely some of what the Liberal Democrats were proposing through devolution on demand, which was also advocated by the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), although we would like to go further by offering a menu of powers that local authorities could take, perhaps without needing to go through the bargaining and bartering process that has taken place with the city deals. We welcome the Bill, but we would like to go further. We have consistently supported devolutionary measures over many years, from the Scottish Parliament through to the changes in Cornwall.

I am enthusiastic about the Bill, but I would not say that I was violently enthusiastic, as one Conservative Member did earlier. My enthusiasm is tempered by

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what is happening to local authorities’ budgets, which are under huge pressure. I am sure that this is true for all Members in the Chamber this afternoon, but my local authority, having made as many savings as possible though initiatives such as combining back-office functions with other local authorities, is now having to make some serious and more challenging decisions about libraries and youth services.

As I said, we will support the Bill on Second Reading. I am surprised at the position taken by the official Opposition, and I am afraid I agreed with those senior Labour Back Benchers who expressed surprise and concern that it might be more about opposition for opposition’s sake than about concrete concerns. This is genuine devolution on offer, and local authorities should be willing to grasp it.

I wish to comment briefly on some of the amendments made to the Bill in the other place. Greater accountability was built in, which is essential, particularly if there are to be many more elected mayors. I hope that the sort of scrutiny one sees in London, with the London Mayor and London Assembly, will happen for elected mayors in combined authorities. I do not want to be suspicious of what the Secretary of State said earlier, but he seemed to be saying that elected mayors would not be imposed, but in subsequent questions, the look on his face suggested that perhaps there would be some imposition. From the discussions behind closed doors, which others have referred to, it seems that there will be a requirement for elected mayors to be adopted. I agree there is a fundamental question about what sort of governance structure an authority puts in place if it does not have an elected mayor but, as I said earlier, combined authorities should be able to decide that question.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): That has not been the Government’s approach in the north-east, where combined authorities have been told, “You can have an elected mayor. Take it or leave it.”

Tom Brake: Indeed, and that is not something I would support. It should be for the combined authorities to decide.

I do not think the Secretary of State mentioned votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, which are provided for in the Bill and are my reason for supporting it on Second Reading. Whether we support it in future stages, however, will depend on what he intends to do about amendments around the imposition of elected mayors, votes at 16 and 17 and allowing Bristol, for instance, to vote in a referendum to get rid of its elected mayor. If people are not happy with a governance arrangement, they should have the power to change it.

I want to stress our concerns about the concentration of power in elected mayors. The Secretary of State will know that under the first-past-the-post system, one party often ends up controlling an authority, and potentially all the combined authorities, even though the percentage of votes cast for it should not give it a majority. One of the central questions is how to ensure that the powers of the mayor are checked by the appropriate mechanisms.

I am pleased with what Lord Warner, Lord Patel and Baroness Walmsley did at the other end to make it clear that NHS standards would apply, because we needed some certainty about that.

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In conclusion, however, whether our support continues into Committee will depend on what the Secretary of State intends to do about some of the positive changes made in the House of Lords around elected mayors, votes at 16 and ensuring greater accountability for the proposed new governance arrangements. The Bill is a positive development, but there are still some areas to watch.

4.59 pm

William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill, and like several before me, I do so to highlight specific reservations that if left unaddressed could lead to significant problems on the road ahead. I wish to speak candidly about these proposals and urge improvement while there is still time. I also speak on this matter with a degree of direct experience of local government within Greater Manchester, having served as a councillor on Stockport borough council prior to being elected to this place.

Speaking as a former councillor, I firmly believe in strong and accountable local government, and believe that many services and powers can best be decided on, provided to and voted on geographically close to the people they affect. Too often, Westminster is seen as too remote or out of touch to do an effective job in that regard. To this end, I believe that appropriate powers should be devolved to local people where they are clearly of benefit to, and demanded by, local people. I am sure that this is what the authors of the Bill intended at its inception, as well as to deliver on a manifesto commitment to “devolve powers and budgets” in order to deliver local growth. In its current form, however, I feel that in places it falls short of this aim and in other respects goes too far. It also raises important constitutional questions about which I am currently uneasy.

The Bill would enable the creation of elected mayors for combined local authorities to exercise budgets and powers relating to transport, housing, local business, skills, health and in some cases policing and planning. These powers will be both drawn up from constituent local authorities and drawn down from central Government, and in the case of Greater Manchester, would result in a command of a portfolio in excess of £6 billion a year. This makes the new Mayor, and others to follow, the most powerful politicians in England outside Westminster and Greater London. It is right, therefore, that such a post should be chosen by, and answerable to, the people.

The Bill proposes a system for electing this new Mayor in 2017—you can’t say fairer than that. However, colleagues from outside Greater Manchester—and, I dare say, a few people who live in Greater Manchester—may be surprised to learn that although the Bill is only having its Second Reading today, this new Mayor of Greater Manchester is already in place and has been in office for four and a half months. At the end of May, the interim Mayor was appointed by a handful of councillors—the leaders of the 10 metropolitan boroughs of Greater Manchester. The successful candidate was Tony Lloyd, the Labour police and crime commissioner for the county. His opponent was Labour’s Lord Smith of Leigh, himself the leader of Wigan council. Neither candidate published any manifestos, did any campaigning; made any public appearances or answered any questions from voters or journalists. The decision was taken at a meeting held in private without any public involvement.

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The only hustings were behind closed doors at four events where colleagues of the two men—fellow Greater Manchester politicians—could ask questions, and even those had to be pre-submitted in writing.

It appears, sadly, that the democratic revolution that the Bill is meant to create does not at this stage involve much democracy. Happily, however, that point was not totally lost on the interim Mayor himself. As quoted by The Daily Telegraph in May, he said:

“There is no sense that what we're delivering for the people of Greater Manchester is owned by them and believed by them to be in their interests, and we’ve got to change that.”

How we are to “change that”, however, is not clear. Unlike in London, there will not be an elected assembly holding the interim Mayor or his elected successor to account. Unlike in London, there will be no statutory public question times, where anyone can turn up and ask the Mayor a question. Unlike in London, almost nobody in Greater Manchester even has the faintest idea of what is happening.

Important questions are still to be answered. How powerful will the new mayors be in relation to their boroughs or in relation to Members of Parliament? Will the Secretary of State be able to confer more powers on mayors at a later date? Will this require further legislation? Will those in this House or local councils, or even voters, get the opportunity to support or resist these future transfers? What are the safeguards against metropolitan district powers being transferred to the elected mayor? Is there any provision for these councils to have a mechanism whereby they can withdraw powers without penalty? Can we include strengthened safeguards for metropolitan districts to have the power of veto?

Barbara Keeley: I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman’s speech. If he is against the imposition by his Government of an elected Mayor on Greater Manchester, would he have preferred, in common with some other hon. Members, to have a referendum Greater Manchester-wide on this issue?

William Wragg: The hon. Lady anticipates a future paragraph in my speech; if she will wait with bated breath, she will have her answer.

The questions I mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be addressed and revised in order to make these measures acceptable. So far, the matter of devolution to Greater Manchester and the creation of a directly elected Mayor has been very much distant from the general public. Elected by nobody, scrutinised by nobody, known by nobody, and paid a fortune, controlling an even larger budget, the new interim Mayor carries a distinct air of illegitimacy. Of course, those are just my concerns, speaking as an MP with a conservative approach to constitutional affairs.

As I said at the outset, I am in favour of the devolution of appropriate powers when they benefit, and are demanded by, local people.

Mr Nuttall: As a councillor in the constituency that my hon. Friend now represents, and in his current role, has he found much enthusiasm among his electorate for the creation of yet another tier of local government?

William Wragg: I must say that I have found very little enthusiasm among my constituents for the creation of another tier of government at any level.

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One way of settling this question would be to test it by means of a referendum in Greater Manchester. Presumably other cities could follow suit, and could express their will emphatically. I know that this is not a new idea—it has been circulated by others who are cautious about these proposals—but so far it has met with resistance, which naturally raises the suspicion that one reason why voters have been cut out of the process is the fear that they would make the wrong decision.

We should remember that, in 2012, referendums on the introduction of elected mayors were held in major cities across the country. The people of Manchester rejected the idea, amid concerns about “an elected dictator”, as did all other cities apart from Bristol; and the portfolio of the Bristol Mayor is but a sliver of that which is proposed for Greater Manchester. There should be serious reflection about this, and the Government should explain why the needs for a referendum now, to enact the proposals in the Bill, are any less great than they were in 2012. Indeed, since the people of the city of Manchester and the borough of Bury—mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall)—rejected directly elected mayors in referendums, many might ask why this mayor is being forced upon them.

Let me end by saying, perhaps surprisingly given the tone of my speech so far, that I will apprehensively support the Bill’s Second Reading. I stress, however, that significant amendments need to be tabled in Committee and on Report to address these serious concerns and head off mounting disquiet among all parties and all regions about the powers in the Bill and the precedents that they set.

If I have ruffled any feathers on this side of the House this afternoon, I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me. I stand here as a loyal member of the Government’s party, fortified by the manifesto on which I stood. Page 13 of that document—which was roundly endorsed by more than 11 million people in May—states:

“We will devolve far-reaching powers over economic development, transport and social care to large cities which choose to have elected mayors.”

I merely ask this: where, so far, has that choice been for the people of Greater Manchester, and when is it going to come?

5.7 pm

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): I should declare an interest, as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I welcome the debate, and I welcome the shadow team’s involvement in a slightly larger remit including a constitutional convention. I think that if we were to look closely at other models of an upper House, or a bicameral system, we could discover a great deal about the regional differences to which many Members have referred today.

Let me say a little about some of the other points that have been made by Members on both sides of the House. First, I share the considerable reservations that have been expressed about Sunday trading and the impact that it might have. Secondly, let me draw Labour Members’ attention to something of which they may not be aware. A voluntary tourist levy has been introduced

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by the London borough of Hackney, and I suggest that they have a look at it, because it is a great example of the way in which a business approach can occasionally be combined with people joining in voluntarily. The levy is spent directly on such functions as the cleansing of the borough.

I wanted to make a couple of points about the question of mayors, which was raised by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg). There is a predominance of male mayors, and I think we should look at that. I do not think enough women are either council leaders or mayors, and I suspect that that is why I was invited to become the vice-president of the LGA. When I last looked, 88% of council leaders or mayors in the country were men, and I am sure that very few of them are black or ethnic minority.

We also need to look at the possibility of fixed terms, because in some areas there will always be a Labour mayor and or there will always be a Tory mayor. In such areas, having three fixed terms might be a way of slightly loosening things up for people coming through who want one day to be the mayor. We need to be brave and consider that, even though it is not an easy topic to raise with people who currently hold the role.

I wish to address the three key areas, the first of which relates to capital budgets and housing. There is no reason why we have to wait for this Bill to go through; we could easily allow councils to borrow to build homes. If the Government really want to be radical and non-ideological, I suggest they try a Treasury-approved scheme whereby certain councils that are keen to build homes, perhaps in London and the south-east, are permitted to do so. That would get around our forever lifting borrowing caps and things; we could just allow certain schemes to come through. The all-party group for London is examining a particular scheme and will bring that to the Government’s attention. In parts of the country where housing is not such an urgent issue, we might be able to consider, for example, certain transport capital projects, so that we are being innovative and not waiting for this whole process to go through. We could look at Treasury-backed schemes to undertake transport projects in parts of the country where housing is not the key capital issue.

My second point is about skills. In the London context, the LEP is not best practice, because the scale does not work; it does not connect to local communities. Perhaps it does in Manchester or in other parts of the country—I do not know enough about that. On skills and employment, local boroughs—large unitary authorities—that have a billion-pound turnover are big enough to have an LEP of their own. We should be a bit more ambitious than what is currently on the table in respect of skills and unitary authorities.

My final point is about the health revenue stream. There is currently no incentive for a local government leader to do any prevention whatsoever; there is not enough money so why do it? We have to consider a mechanism whereby when it comes to the end of February, local council leaders are doing the right thing because they know it is the best thing for the public purse, because the saving goes back to the NHS. We have to think of a way of being really creative so that local authority leaders are doing the right thing on prevention, rather than being penalised because they are doing prevention, which is slightly more expensive; they spend

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more money and it saves the NHS money, so there is no recycling there of the budget. I wonder whether our very clever civil servants could think about getting together with the Department of Health to carry out some experiments on that.

I also wish to raise three issues of governance in the London council context. First, voluntary committees are currently considered capable by Departments of receiving appropriate delegations and funding as part of the devolved settlement in specific service areas. We need to be given reassurances that the governance framework matches what we need to do because, as I said, London is of such a scale that the Manchester model does not quite fit, but neither does one of sub-regional partnerships.

My second point relates to the issue of the Mayor versus the boroughs. It is not a party political point, because this is just how it works. We need to ensure that voting rules do not preclude the protection of minority interests; a 50% plus 1 arrangement would not provide enough protection between boroughs or between boroughs and the Mayor. That needs to be looked at in more detail.

Finally, joint committees remain capable of being entered into and being left by individual authorities rather than by external direction, so there is a bit of an opt-out—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I call Robert Neill.

5.14 pm

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I warmly welcome the Bill, which places my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is a friend in more ways than one, in a very great tradition of Conservative municipal reformers. It is worth remembering that a great deal of the architecture of local government as we now know it is due to Conservative radicalism. We can trace this back through the work of Richard Cross, Disraeli’s Home Secretary, the work of the Salisbury Administration and the creation of county councils, as we know them, in the Local Government Act 1888, and the creation of the forerunners of the London boroughs through the municipal reform legislation of the 1890s. They were all the result of Conservatives who were prepared, where necessary, to shake up the mix a little when they realised that the existing structures needed to change, to be built on and to be reformed.

If my right hon. Friend looks at some of the debates then, as I had the chance to do, he will see that Salisbury’s Home Secretary, Ritchie, was told that the vestries were all doing perfectly nicely and there was no appetite to change them, that people would be very happy with that, and that the idea of a London-wide council was most dangerous because the rates were much lower in Paris, as the Paris city council existed only for the discussion of communistic principles. One or two things have changed, I suppose, and my experience of London council leaders takes me nowhere near that route.

Those who want to use local government as a dynamic force sometimes have to fight against a degree of institutional inertia. We sought to do that in the previous Government with the Localism Act 2011 and with the reform of local government finance. The Bill is a further

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step on the road. The Secretary of State was right to talk of it as a suite of powers that are being given. There are those who may say that some powers come with conditionality attached, but it is up to the councils concerned to decide. If they want that devolution, it is not unreasonable to accept the condition of direct accountability that goes with it, so I have no difficulty with the Government’s proposal in that regard. If councils have so great an objection to a directly elected chief executive, which has worked perfectly well in London, they do not have to apply for devolution. That is the simple answer. Enlightened self-interest will, I am sure, make any sensible council willing to apply.

My own experience of London government has been that the traditional format of London-wide governance in the Greater London Council did not succeed, whereas a much slimmer, more strategic Greater London Authority with a directly elected and accountable Mayor—a direct focus point for the people of London, and a direct focus point for inward investors to London—has worked, particularly when collaborating with the second-tier authorities. That is the model that the Government are moving forward and we should endorse it.

The reason I intervened on the Secretary of State earlier about the financial powers is that it is important that we see this change also in the context of the very important announcement at my party’s conference of the return of the business rate to local government. The two go hand in glove, although they are not legislatively linked, because the creation of good-size combined authorities creates the critical mass for those authorities to work as economic drivers. It is accepted that we will have to raise funds for that economic investment. They will have the size and scale and, if they are sensible with their use of the retained business rate, the ability not only to invest directly but, for example, to promote further the already fledgling municipal bond market, which would be regarded as the norm in most other advanced democracies, but which we have lacked in the United Kingdom.

Reference has been made to the undoubted need under the new financing system to have some form of equalisation. We all accept that. A very interesting piece of work has been done through the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance which suggests that it might well be possible to do that equalisation not necessarily on a single national basis, but on a sub-national basis. If, as I hope is the case, we see combined authorities and other authorities voluntarily pooling their business rate receipts because that makes sense, particularly if the combined authorities are to be based upon natural economic units so that the development area is not likely to be in the area of one single constituent authority but within the combined authority, the logic then for pooling business rates is all the more enhanced. That provides the critical mass to borrow against that income and perhaps the ability to deal with at least some elements of the equalisation within that pool, instead of a one-size-fits-all formula. That opens up a very considerable number of opportunities.

My final point is London-related. London does not feature specifically in the Bill, but I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) that many people feel that London’s devolution is not finished business. I hope the Secretary of State will look favourably upon a London devolution bid brought forward

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by the Mayor and the London boroughs, consistent with the terms of the Act. We, too, are anxious to be part of that continuing devolution.

I strongly commend my right hon. Friend. He will certainly have my support. We ought to seize the opportunity, which is entirely consistent with the one nation Toryism that he, I and many others signed up to.

5.20 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): In my experience, one of the most persistent criticisms over many years coming from people living in shire areas is that the public are generally baffled about who runs their local services and who is responsible for what. I have to say that looking at the fine technical detail of this Bill with its combined authorities, its LEPs and its EPBs, its contiguous and non-contiguous doughnuts, I doubt whether anyone is going to be much the wiser afterwards, because we still live in a highly centralised state and it is clear that the Treasury in particular ceding any power, if at all, will be done through fiercely clenched teeth with an expression of agony at the prospect.

That is the problem with this Bill: it is all so complicated and difficult, and it is simply not up to the scale and immediacy of the challenge the country faces, because while we debate the minutiae, the world moves on, and we tie our hands. This is such a missed opportunity.

Last week in my city of Cambridge, Cambridge Ahead, a business-led organisation that really should have the full support of this Government if they cared to look at it, laid out the case for Cambridge. It is a unique partnership of local authorities, businesses and our world-leading universities, with cross-party support from our three local MPs. Cambridge Ahead last week explained the choice not just for the city, but for the sub-region and one of the key drivers of the UK economy.

The choice is very stark, because by any measure Cambridge is a hugely successful city, with 25 of the world’s largest corporations, but unless we can tackle the huge problems of housing, transport and skills that have to be tackled locally—that is why this Bill matters—that success cannot be maintained. Be in no doubt, future success is not inevitable, and if Cambridge stalls I suspect much of the UK stalls, too.

At last week’s event I was very struck by the comments of Antony Mattessich, managing director of Mundipharma International based at the Cambridge science park, employing hundreds of people. Like so many Cambridge companies, it is not a household name, but these companies are very important and he told a very familiar story about how he came to Cambridge, how he fell in love with the city, and how well the company does here. Yet, with housing so expensive and transport so difficult, it becomes increasingly hard to persuade key people to come here, so they choose other places such as San Francisco and other parts of the world that are our direct competitors—and where the key people go, so they build their teams, and so we gradually lose out. It is a story I hear time and again in Cambridge.

It was writ large a few years ago when AstraZeneca chose to move to Cambridge from the north-west, a move that I know was very disappointing for those

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representing that part of the country. But the key point is that if it had not come to Cambridge, it would not have stayed in the UK; it would have gone elsewhere in the world. It was a very fine decision, and unless we get ourselves sorted out soon there is no guarantee that we can achieve the same good result for the UK the next time a major company faces a similar choice.

So this is not about special pleading for one part of the country; it is about making sure the Government’s rhetoric about competing in the global race has any chance of actually being delivered. If the Government are serious—and given the political game-playing we will be having later tonight, that is open to question—Ministers should listen carefully to what serious people in Cambridge have to say about this. Their biggest single ask is to go beyond what is in this Bill and back to what was almost agreed in 2014 until the Treasury bottled it. A thriving city such as Cambridge can be trusted to make the major investments needed for transport and housing through a tax-increment financing approach. The research shows a three-to-one return on gross value added to investment.

If that was a business deal, we would do it. Business in Cambridge and around is crying out for it. Local people, unable to afford homes to buy and increasingly unable to afford homes to rent, are crying out for it. Workers stuck every day in hopeless traffic queues around Cambridge are crying out for it. The local newspaper demands it. There is just one major obstacle: the tired old thinking in the Treasury that always says, “No, you can’t.”

That is not how entrepreneurialism works, and that is not how Cambridge works. There really ought to be enough people on the Conservative Benches who understand that, and I suspect that the Secretary of State might just be one of them. My simple request is that the Government work with us to get the Bill into a state in which it will allow the Cambridge success story to continue, for the benefit not just of Cambridge but of the whole UK economy.

5.25 pm

Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con): On 16 July this year, an historic devolution deal for Cornwall was signed off by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the heads of Kernow clinical commissioning group, Cornwall Council and the local enterprise partnership for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. As the first rural authority to be granted devolution, Cornwall has been given the ability to franchise its bus services. It has also been given intermediate body status for EU funding and, crucially, greater powers over the health and social care agenda.

For years we have had nationalists in Cornwall calling for a Cornish assembly, blaming central Government for mismanagement and complaining about decisions being taken in London. I am proud to say that within weeks of securing a blue Cornwall and a Conservative majority Government, we put together the largest devolution package Cornwall has ever seen. This is in stark contrast to Labour’s centralisation under unelected regional assemblies. Placing power squarely in the duchy allows Cornwall to take control over its own destiny, meaning that the people of Cornwall will have a greater say over their own affairs, and rightly so.

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Mr Kevan Jones: I am pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman is announcing about Cornwall, but will he tell the House whether the Government insisted that there should be a mayor?

Scott Mann: That was not the case, no. The powers were devolved to Cornwall Council, to the local enterprise partnership and to the business community.

I welcome the prospect of every local authority in the UK having the same powers that Cornwall now has. Local MPs, local councils and local business leaders will of course know what is best for their areas. It is my hope that this deal will empower local communities and make local authorities more accountable. There have long been calls in Cornwall to pull up the hypothetical drawbridge over the Tamar and to cut ourselves off from Plymouth and the rest of Britain. We can rightly be proud of our heritage, traditions and culture, but we do ourselves and our young people a disservice if we continue to navel-gaze. Our young people deserve better than that.

The nuts and bolts of the Cornish deal revolve around three main areas: buses, the European spending programme and the NHS, and I shall now address the issues involved. Cornwall’s transport network has been dysfunctional for years. The train services rarely meet up with the bus timetabling, and the bus network is very fragmented. My area of North Cornwall has no train services, and my villages have a less than satisfactory bus service. Under the stewardship of Nigel Blackler, we will be implementing a smart ticketing service and a more integrated network. I am confident that we will deliver that very well.

In the past, Cornwall has been seen as an economically deprived area. We have received two rounds of EU funding through convergence and objective 1. The last round of the European spending programme was set to deliver 10,000 jobs, but it delivered only 3,500. The constraints that the European Union placed on the spending, together with a lack of any coherent strategy, led to a woeful return on the investment. Economic development has never been well delivered by bureaucrats, by local government or by the European Union. I believe that by placing the funding programme with the local enterprise partnership, we will have business leaders searching for value for money, working with colleges on vocational training and ensuring that every penny is diverted to business from business.

Cornwall’s health services and social care providers are spread out and not working together. Many cottage hospitals in North Cornwall feel that they are under-utilised and could be providing more. Although the NHS is geared up around the primary care provided through the Treliske and Derriford hospitals, our GPs and services in the community are not being utilised to their full potential. I am in no doubt that handing this matter over to the Kernow commissioning group will help in the delivery of the service. However, as Superman’s father famously said on Krypton:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

The Cornwall deal asks leaders to deliver. It seeks inspiration, job creation and innovation. I say to the leaders of Cornwall Council, the local enterprise partnership and the clinical commissioning group, “Now is your time. Show us your skill. Show us you can deliver for

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Cornwall and I give you my word that devolution will not stop here from this one nation Conservative Government.”

5.30 pm

Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab): May I commend the Secretary of State for his genuine commitment to, and support of, local government? Indeed, given what we have suffered from in the past, it is a pleasure to have such a Secretary of State.

Let me put it on the record that local government is the most efficient part of government. It has suffered cuts of more than 40% during this austerity period, which is more than any other part of government. I speak as a former leader of St Helens council, which is resilient and has a very strong identity. It is, and always has been, innovative. Indeed, Michael Heseltine came to St Helens back in the 1980s to witness and observe the first public-private sector partnership, Ravenhead Renaissance, which I delivered as leader of the council. At the time, we were losing coal, glass and chemicals. We lost 30,000 jobs in 10 years. Many of those jobs have since been replaced, but sadly not in manufacturing. That is why I am so keen on the progress of advanced manufacturing.

My concern, and indeed the concern of the public that I represent, is about the elected mayoral model. St Helens, like Bury North, consulted all its residents back in 2004, and got a resounding no to an elected mayor. It went for a strong leader model. Some three or four years ago, we took a resolution through council, and unanimously decided—Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour—that we were opposed to a city region elected mayor. Indeed, that is what would cause a problem in St Helens and perhaps in Knowsley. I know that Knowsley had a resolution against a mayoral model and it has since taken it back.

This is an enabling Bill. It is what is not in the Bill that is of concern rather than what is. Practically none of the specific responsibilities of this Bill is actually mentioned in it. What is concerning is the bilateral discussions that have gone on between the Chancellor and local authority leaders. They have not been transparent or open. Councillors—I remain a councillor and am aware of what is going on—are not aware of what is going on behind those doors, so heaven help the public. We talk about the devolution of power to communities and yet we deny those communities the right to decide whether they want a mayoral model. It just does not bode well. I was quite genuine when I commended the Secretary of State at the beginning of my contribution, so I ask him—I know that he listens to what is being said—to consider carefully whether having a mayoral model should be a prerequisite for devolution. It is simply not necessary. Indeed, I understand that Cornwall is having devolution without it.

The concern in Merseyside and in other areas—I hear it coming from councils in other areas—is that devolution is about the devolution of regulatory powers from Government to local government, city regions or combined authorities. There is great concern about, and talk of, statutory duties of local authorities being transferred to a mayor. Not everything that the city regions ask for will be granted at first, but some devolution will be granted on condition that they follow the mayoral model.

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The concern is that local authorities’ statutory duties will be transferred up to a mayor who will be unaccountable, although there will be oversight by the elected leaders.

Mr Kevan Jones: I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Does she agree that the Government are being completely inconsistent, because Cornwall, which has a Tory authority, can have devolution without an elected mayor, but her authority and many others in the north-east have been told that they cannot have devolution unless they first accept the mayoral model?

Marie Rimmer: Yes. If it is good enough for Bristol, it is good enough for Merseyside, and for any anywhere else. That is a real concern of ours.

We have evidence of our innovation. Local authorities, including some in Merseyside, share the delivery of services. For example, St Helens shares many services with what was formerly known as Mid Mersey, and with Wigan, Warrington and Halton, and they include adoption and fostering services and even business rates, and we provide planning for a neighbouring authority.

The confusion now is that some local authorities think that the panacea of devolution will solve all their financial problems. Indeed, one leader told me how much the local clinical commissioning group gets and said, “We’ll be able to get our hands on that.” Well, in St Helens we have been pooling health and social care budgets for some years. Indeed, four winters ago we saved 36 beds in Whiston hospital by working together. The council used one of its former homes to take elderly patients. They were not enjoying being in hospital, and they got much better care in the former home. That was delivered by the council and paid for by health and social services, so we are very innovative.

The devolution of power also needs resources. We cannot continue to be hammered in the way we have been in recent years. None of the local authorities on Merseyside—and I know, because I am a Merseysider—has done any better than St Helens. In fact, Knowsley and Liverpool have probably done worse, because of the deprivation. But in St Helens we have already lost more from our Government grant funding than what we collect in council tax—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. David Mackintosh.

5.37 pm

David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con): I am pleased to speak in this debate, because I think that the devolution proposals offer a unique opportunity for local areas to look again at how best to deliver public services in their area and how to be no longer confined by old ways of doing things. I want to talk about some of the opportunities that I hope local areas will grasp. We have heard a lot today about process, but I want to talk about how this will impact on real people, and about the examples I have seen of local authorities working together to make a real, positive difference that will only be enhanced by further devolution.

I first became a councillor in Northamptonshire in 2009, and then a council leader in 2011. I saw the massive changes that took place in the last Parliament to give areas and local authorities more control and a

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real stake in economic growth, not only for their own areas, but as part of the wider agenda to rebalance the economy and the wider reforms of the public service. No authority can do that on their own, and local partnerships between public services are vital. Whether it is working with the NHS, the police or the local enterprise partnerships, such as the Northamptonshire enterprise partnership or the South East Midlands local enterprise partnership, on economic, transport or infrastructure issues, the relationship between local authorities and national Government and Members of Parliament are pivotal to how well an area can perform.

Big steps forward, such as the better combination of health and social care, offer the chance to make positive reforms that work so well, as we heard from the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer). They are long overdue and will provide much better care for people. We have seen that with the troubled families programme, for example, where local authorities and the Government work together for the greater benefit. In Northampton, this affected over 300 families. When the programme was launched in 2013 it required all partners to work more closely together, as all the families were known to the authorities in some way and many had multiple problems of drug addiction and antisocial behaviour. Actions that were taken then have made a big difference to those families and their futures. I know from my experience that that required different ways of working, trust between different authorities, and new agreements on data-sharing and ways of operating. This meant a better level of service for the public and better outcomes. No longer could one authority hide behind blaming another. That prompts the question of why this has not been done before. The same could be said for the success of the enterprise zone in Northampton, with local authorities working together to create over 1,000 jobs and to bring in over £119 million of private sector investment.

How much more could have been done with devolved powers and greater responsibility? With devolution comes that greater responsibility on local areas, but also massive opportunities. With the announcements last week by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on business rates and by my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary on housing, there will be greater integration between health and social care. That means huge opportunities for local areas to grow and prosper and to develop their own local economic plans for the future. Indeed, business rates was the No. 1 issue raised with me by businesses during my time as a council leader.

As someone who has long championed local government, I have wanted to see these opportunities for many years. I know they will be looked at very closely in Northampton on its journey of economic regeneration. I am pleased to support the Bill.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. I am sorry to have to say that because of the large number of speakers who still want to catch the Chair’s eye, I have to reduce the time limit on speeches to five minutes.

5.41 pm

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): Like hon. Members across the House, I too welcome further devolution. I commend the incredibly constructive tone

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of the debate among Members on both sides of the House who have made some incredibly detailed speeches, much of which I concur with. As a former trade unionist, I know that not everything is perfect when it is set out, but I acknowledge that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and at least we have a pudding to taste. I commend the Minister’s work on devolution. I also commend the leaders of the local authorities in the Greater Manchester area who have been heavily involved in devolution there.

Many hon. Members have focused on process, and rightly so, but I would not be me if I did not focus on people as well. I would like to talk about the time that I had as a home carer and a trade unionist. I looked after people in need and worked in partnership with local authorities to develop the services that we need. I am particularly proud of the role I was able to play in integrating health and social care services, which is a crucial part of any benefit from devolution in the area. I will focus on that in my speech.

Let me tell you a story about Edwin that was relayed to me by his family. It is about his experiences in the last few months of his life. He was a very proud man who had served his country and was going strong until he reached his late 80s. A number of age-related illnesses soon changed his quality of life, and the independence that was second nature evaporated. Like many in my community, Edwin had worked hard, played by the rules and paid his taxes, and the island of support—the island of social care—was now needed for him and his family. Unfortunately, local services were and are stretched to breaking point. While the language of “devo Manc” and the northern powerhouse is often spoken by the Chancellor, the reality on the ground is somewhat different. Budgets to my local authorities have been cut by over 40% since 2010, with even more to follow, and the biggest-spending departments, such as adult social care, have been hit particularly hard.

Edwin and his family had a prolonged wait for his assessment, and then he was hospitalised with pneumonia. The care from the medical staff and nurses was second to none. Edwin’s only criticism was that there were not enough of them; they were overstretched. All he and his family wanted was for him to get better and return home for his end-of-life care, with support. Unfortunately, he did not make it; he was not helped by the insecurity due to the lack of social care support in the community. If the ultimate goal of an integrated health and social care service is to improve health and quality of life outcomes—making Edwin’s experience a thing of the past—then count me in, but please do not use the devolution agenda as a smokescreen to hide draconian cuts and to devolve the political pain to local areas. In Tameside and Greater Manchester, we are ahead of the game.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend will know that there are now advanced plans for an integrated care organisation in Tameside. Is she as concerned as I am that that is not in itself a silver bullet? There is a massive deficit in the social care budget and a massive deficit in the NHS budget, and integrating the two will still leave a deficit. Is it not time that we told it as it is—social care cuts are NHS cuts?

Angela Rayner: My hon. Friend has a considerable expertise and intelligence in that area, and I absolutely concur with him.

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The concept about which Lincoln spoke a time long ago—Government of the people, by the people, for the people—could pave the way for a first-class health and social care service in our localities, but as the local and regional press in Greater Manchester have pointed out, first-class services shaped by our people in Greater Manchester need a fair deal—a fair devo deal.

When the Government devolve the health and social care budget of £6 billion, please will they be clear and transparent about the £2 billion deficit that the combined authority will inherit? When they devolve further education budgets, why slice 25% off them before transferring them to Greater Manchester councillors? When they talk about electrifying the Northern Rail network, will they stop centrally turning the electric light on, off and on again—we want a powerhouse, not a disco? That is at the heart of our concerns today. The Secretary of State has yet to assure us that he is not just looking to pass the buck and hold on to the bucks.

5.47 pm

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): As an elected member of Dudley council, I support the Bill enthusiastically. For far too long, power has been concentrated in Whitehall. The causes are clear; we have seen them time after time. Oppositions argue for decentralising powers and then Governments, acting with the very best of motives, tend to draw more powers to the centre. That is understandable—it is difficult to give away power, and it is particularly difficult to give it away to political opponents—but it has meant that control has moved further and further away from our communities. That is mirrored in the disengagement of many people from local politics.

I am delighted that this Government’s programme is different. The Bill continues the important work, which was started by the Localism Act 2011, to address this historical imbalance. It is a radical change—removing power from the capital, and putting it in the hands of local people and communities. Our local councils and communities are best placed to understand the challenges facing their own areas and to find innovative solutions to boost growth and jobs.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Does my hon. Friend recognise that, as power is passed down to local councils, it is important to reduce the number of councillors to lower the cost of politics at the same time?

Mike Wood: I could not agree more. In fact, it was a motion I moved in my council about a year ago. We need to look at the size as well as the powers of local government.

Moreover, local people are always best placed to decide the future of where they live and its direction of travel. I am proud to represent a black country constituency at the heart of the west midlands, the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The Bill will help to set it free to become an engine for growth for the UK. The west midlands is responsible for 10.5% of UK exports, despite having only 6.6% of the population. Yet under Labour, the west midlands economy fell further behind the rest of the country. Gross value added per head in Dudley and Sandwell collapsed from an already disappointing 88% of the national average to a terrible 74%.

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A London-centric economic model simply does not work for Britain. The Bill takes us a step closer to rebalancing our economy. I have long been a fan of localism. When our communities and regions succeed, we all benefit and prosper. The Bill will help to get the west midlands—the UK’s engine house—firing on all cylinders again. Economically, the west midlands is thriving once again. Foreign investment increased by 73% last year. The impending HS2 rail link and the transformed New Street station are further reminders of the economic power, draw and credibility of the west midlands. We need a west midlands devolution deal that allows us to transform the region’s transport infrastructure, so that we can take full advantage of the opportunities that HS2 brings.

The Bill not only devolves power and the control of resources, but creates a flexible framework for effective strategic co-ordination. Merging the roles of police and crime commissioner and elected mayor would allow a west midlands combined authority to provide value to the taxpayer and show that it had a cost-effective way of operating long into the future.

There is no one-size-fits-all model of devolution. That is why I am delighted that, unlike previous attempts at devolution, this attempt is, as the shadow Secretary of State might say, from the bottom up. It is left to local communities to decide what the partnerships will be for combined authorities and devolution deals. Sharing services across local authority boundaries will deliver more efficient, effective and responsive services to people who live close to each other.

People in my constituency can be confident that this decentralisation will lead to a brighter economic, social and political future. Black country folk are proud of our strong local identity, but if we unite with our neighbours and work together, our future will be more prosperous. The Bill facilitates that. When power is decentralised and put into the hands of local people, we will not only be telling the world how great the black country is; we will be showing them just how great the whole west midlands region is. That is why I support enthusiastically the Bill and the west midlands bid for the devolution deal that it makes possible. A real devolution revolution that delivers more jobs, better skills, greater opportunities and more homes for people in Dudley South and across the west midlands—that is worth voting for this evening.

5.53 pm

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Devolution, localism or whatever we call it is a bit like apple pie and motherhood—it is something that everyone admires and thinks should be sought.

The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) suggested that the Secretary of State is a Chamberlain-like reformer and likened the Bill to the great reforms to local government in the 19th century. That is not what is on offer here. What we have here is a clear political agenda from the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a small-state, Conservative Britain. The Bill is part of that process.

The hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) just said that the process is being driven by local areas. I have to disabuse him of that idea because it is not. The

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Government will still control 75% of the funding for local authorities and the Government are still dictating the local government settlement. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) praised Cornwall. Well done to Cornwall for getting its devolution settlement, but there is no insistence on a mayor, as there is in the north-east. The north-east is being told, “Yes, you can have devolution, but you’ve got to have an elected mayor first.”

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) made a very good speech, in which he asked where the people are in decisions on this process. If in 2004 we had proposed elected regional assemblies and imposed them without allowing local people to decide, there would have been a hue and cry from Conservative Members. What amazes me is that many Conservative Members from the north-east who fought strongly against regional assemblies are now as quiet as mice when accepting the Secretary of State’s proposals. When the Secretary of State meets council leaders in the north-east and they ask him why they must have an elected mayor, the usual response is, “Well, George wants an elected Mayor.” This is not about true devolution and making decisions at local level; this is about moving responsibility to local councils and so on without the resources to carry that through.

Let us imagine that a city is devolved to a Mayor or council in the north-east. Funding for further education will come with a 10% cut, just as public health spending did when it was devolved to local councils. It will then be down to local politicians to make difficult decisions, and what will be the position of the Chancellor and the Secretary of State? It will be, “It’s not our fault guv, it’s a local decision”—except that it will not be, because they will still hold the purse strings.

At the Tory party conference the devolution of 100% of business rates to local councils was announced as a great move forward. [Hon. Members: “Hear hear.”] Members say, “Hear hear,” but in London more than 300,000 properties have an average business rate of £54,000. In the entire north-east there are 54,000 properties with an average rateable value of £30,000. Unless there is some redistribution in that mechanism, all that will do is benefit areas that are already booming and do not need the assistance that is required in areas such as the north-east. People are fooling themselves if they think that the devolution of business rates is a panacea for growth in those areas.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend touches on a real concern because his area, like mine, has a low council tax base. Given cuts in funding, and local authorities’ inability to raise more finance through council tax, does he share my concern that we will need something like Chinese-style growth to fill that gap with business rates?

Mr Jones: I will give one topical example. Redcar has just lost one of its major sources of local business rates, so how will that be replaced? Westminster City Council and other areas would be able to do it, but without resource reallocation of business rates, areas such as Redcar will not be helped. That has added to what we have seen over the past five years of this Government and the movement of resources from poorer areas to wealthier ones.

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Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with his erstwhile colleague, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who last week said that through business rates, Greater Manchester is now in a position to invest in local infrastructure? Is it better to have people, including the hon. Gentleman’s former colleague, who know what is best for Greater Manchester, rather than people in Whitehall?

Mr Jones: It might be, but let us take an example from the north-east such as Redcar. What will be the growth in such areas from business rates? There will be none, which is why we must have some redistribution.

When Lord Adonis—I am glad the Conservatives have got him now—came forward with this nonsense about 100% business rates, I criticised it and I continue to do so now. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove asked a good question: where are the people in this process? In the north-east they are being completely ignored, and the Conservative party, led by Jeremy Middleton and Graham Robb—two former Tory candidates who have put themselves forward as business people—thinks that councils are being obstructive because they are asking basic questions such as, “Why aren’t people being asked what they think?”, “How will the mayor be accountable?” and “Where does that leave local councils in the delivery of services?” People have said that it is a luddite approach to ask such questions, but the same people have been completely silent in the north-east over the past five years about the direction of this Government, who have deliberately taken money from the north-east in policing, fire, health and local authorities, and moved it to wealthier areas in the south of England.

I challenge those people to stand up for the north-east and to start criticising their own Government. The Chancellor’s plan is very well worked out, but it will not help to devolve real power to people. The real power will still be retained by the Chancellor. The only thing actually to be devolved to local politicians, which they will find very difficult, is the blame for very tough decisions taken in Whitehall. Budgets will be top-sliced and then handed down to local authority leaders and others.

I challenge the Government, if they really want to be honest about this, to give the north-east the options they have given other areas, such as Cornwall. Devolution does not have to come with an elected mayor. I challenge the Minister to give local people a say on whether they want an elected mayor—yes or no.

6 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I speak not only in my role as an MP representing a constituency in a shire county, but as chairman of the all-party group for counties. My interest is to ensure that county areas do not miss out and are able to make the most of the significant opportunities presented by the devolution agenda the Government are rightly pursuing.

The previous Government presided over a seismic shift away from the top-down approach that “the man from Whitehall knows best”. This change in strategy was correct. Local enterprise partnerships and city deals have been a great success. The new Anglia local enterprise partnership, which covers Suffolk and Norfolk, is a good example of that. The Bill puts in place the legal framework across the country that will

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make it simpler and easier to devolve more powers to the regions. Areas can then come forward with their own bespoke proposals.

Counties are the largest contributor to the national economy. For devolution to realise its full potential, it is important that they are fully involved and able to participate. Half of the English population, and an overwhelming majority of businesses, live and work in county areas. Analysis by the County Councils Network shows that counties are the main drivers of growth outside London, contributing 41% of gross value added to the country. Counties account for 43% of national employment, with more than 50% in the key sectors of manufacturing, motor trades and construction.

There is an urgent need for further devolution, as there are systemic weaknesses in many local economies that need to be addressed. In counties these include too many low-paid jobs, poor infrastructure and often geographical remoteness. Up until now, only one devolution deal has included counties. There is a criticism that the process has been too metropolitan in focus. The devolution deals that have taken place have focused largely on northern cities. I can understand why that is the case, as significant funds already go there and such areas as Greater Manchester have been working in a joined-up way that the Government are rightly now encouraging. It is important that deals should be available to all and it is wrong to assume that economic growth potential in the city regions is greater than in the counties. The Cornwall deal shows that devolution should not be confined to urban areas, and that an elected mayor is not a necessary precursor to success in securing a deal.

Counties are stepping up to the plate. In the most recent round of devolution deals, the majority of bids submitted by the 4 September deadline involved county areas. In England, 22 of the 34 bids submitted involved counties. Counties, districts and unitary authorities are working tirelessly, often across complicated county structures, to build vigorous relationships and put in place rigorous governance arrangements, and are proposing strategies that will improve their economies and public services. Suffolk has come forward with an ambitious proposal that brings together most parts of the public sector. It should be noted that the population of Suffolk is 730,000, compared with 536,000 in Cornwall. Thus, I hope that its proposal will receive favourable consideration.

If counties are not fully involved in the devolution process, there is a risk of a complex, fragmented and opaque local government and public services map emerging across the country. It is important not to insist on metro mayors as a prerequisite of devolution deals. They are not appropriate at the current time for large swathes of the country, and there is a risk of disfranchising the majority of England’s population. Counties have shown initiative, drive and leadership in creating devolution deal footprints that ensure that the public service map is clear and accountable and makes sense across the whole country. I urge the Government to support them by offering transformative devolution deals to county areas.

This Bill, together with the comprehensive spending review, provides the framework and the opportunity to drive forward devolution. It is vital that this tide of decentralisation reaches all four corners of the country. It has arrived in Cornwall in the west. It now needs to come to the east and to Suffolk and my Waveney constituency—the most easterly place in Britain.

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6.5 pm

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I welcome the Bill, which takes much needed and well overdue steps to move power closer to the people it affects. The UK is undoubtedly one of the most centralised developed democracies in the world, and evidence shows that that is holding it back. As Sharon White, second permanent secretary at Her Majesty’s Treasury, recently said:

“There’s pretty good cross-country data that shows that decentralisation tends on average to be more closely associated with both stronger growth and better public services”.

The Bill aims to give the people of England and Wales more accountability, increased growth, improved public services and a richer democracy. Its principles should be embraced by this House and by local authorities as a mechanism to set them free from the shackles of Whitehall and to allow them to grow, prosper and compete.

The welcome announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Conservative party conference that councils should keep business rates in return for the abolition of the block grant only serves to hasten the importance of enacting legislation to devolve power. That measure will be a key factor in ensuring success.

The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) has mentioned his reservations. In Leicestershire, the combined block grant for county and district councils comes to £136 million per annum, whereas the business rates are currently £226 million per annum. The proposal is, therefore, a considerable win and will result in my county council becoming one of the better, rather than one of the lowest, funded councils in the country.

Mr Kevan Jones: The hon. Gentleman talks about freedom from central Government, but he has to recognise that the block grant for the rest of his council’s spending will be there. Moreover, has he asked Ministers what would happen if one or two large factories in his constituency closed and the local authorities lost a huge amount of business rates? Who would make up the difference? Would central Government step in, or would local taxpayers have to pick up the tab?

Andrew Bridgen: I work closely with my district council and we encourage business to locate and expand in my constituency. Its planning book currently has £14 million-worth of additional business rates waiting for planning permission.

Mr Jones: Not everywhere is like that.

Andrew Bridgen: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman be more business-facing and encourage businesses to come to his constituency.

On the Bill’s potential impact, my constituency of North West Leicestershire has achieved one of the highest growth rates outside London and the south-east due not only to our geographic location, but to my hard-working constituents. The Bill is essential because the jobs being created in my constituency far outnumber the number of unemployed people, and we work with other councils to address—in a way I do not believe central Government are able to grasp or respond to—our infrastructure needs and the training and skills that businesses in my constituency require to continue to prosper.

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East midlands combined authority bids have been made by the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. I understand that Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire are seeking to join up with authorities outside the east midlands region. There is a rumour that the D2N2 bid—Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire—will be rejected because it does not have the critical mass, which rather puts in doubt the bid made by Leicester and Leicestershire in my county.

Mark Spencer: Does my hon. Friend recognise that any bid to devolve powers to the east midlands must give more cash to the rural and coalfield areas of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, which we share?

Andrew Bridgen: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a great deal of synergy between Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. We all have former coalmining areas, and as a Member of Parliament whose main conurbation is called Coalville I am completely at one with him on that.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I just wish to make sure that it is not spelled Colvile, as I spell my name, but Coalville.

Andrew Bridgen: We are talking about the real coal.

I would maintain that the only viable bid that could be labelled a true east midlands bid would be from the three counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, the area that used to be known as the golden triangle. It is interesting that the D2N2 bid relies on growth around East Midlands airport, which is fully in my constituency and in Leicestershire. It is difficult to see how we will get the infrastructure to latch on to that growth if it is not in the D2N2 region.

I note that clause 10 allows the Secretary of State to make provisions by order for the combined authority to levy for transport and other functions and to borrow for those when the constituent councils consent. Let me cite an example. I am currently pressing for the reopening of the Burton to Leicestershire rail line, which runs through east Staffordshire, south Derbyshire, my constituency of North West Leicestershire, Bosworth and Blaby to Leicester. Historically, the county council has not been willing to provide finance for that railway, but with economic growth being experienced in all those areas, I believe that many others would think it viable if it were given a chance. However, it would serve only a portion of the combined authority area and would not only run cross-county but cross-region. I would like some clarification of how that could be dealt with through devolved powers.

Clause 19 refers to health services and there are opportunities to deliver more joined-up and improved services in health and social care. We are one of the few developed countries not to link these services together, and there is a growing realisation that that has to change in order to get the best value for money.

Finally, I would caution that clause 20 will inevitably lead to greater calls for the voting age at general elections and future referendums to be lowered to 16 and I would therefore object to it.

In conclusion, the northern powerhouse is rightly one of the Government’s priorities and an essential factor in achieving growth for the future. We also have a

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powerhouse in the east midlands, known as the midlands engine, particularly in the area around the golden triangle of Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. By working together, we can do far more and ensure greater economic growth and prosperity for all our constituents.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. I am sorry, but because of the interesting but lengthy interventions we will have to drop the time limit on speeches down to three minutes.

6.12 pm

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I welcome the Second Reading of this Bill, which was successfully steered through the other place by Baroness Williams of Trafford and enjoyed broad cross-party support for many of its proposals. I, like many other Members, started my political life in local government, wanting to improve the local community, and I was regularly frustrated by the rules and regulations imposed from above and by how most of the power in the country is centralised and remote from the people on the street.

The Bill implements our manifesto commitment to allow cities and areas outside London to reach their economic potential and is therefore particularly welcomed by northern MPs like me. It helps us to deliver on the promises we made that if we were returned to government there would be a clear economic plan and a brighter, more secure future for the whole country. That commitment was graphically illustrated by the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer chose to deliver his first speech since the election not in London but in Manchester, where he again talked about building a northern powerhouse.

Building a northern powerhouse is not just about moving public sector jobs from one part of the country to another but about growing the private sector so that we can have real and sustained growth that supports great public services, and recognising that although the individual cities and towns of the north are strong, if we enable them to pool their strength they could become stronger than the sum of their parts.

Since 2010, a great deal of progress has been made. The Government supported the development of local enterprise partnerships, concluded city deals with 27 cities and took £12 billion out of Whitehall and put it in the hands of local people through growth deals. The growth deal for Lancashire, announced in July 2014 and January 2015, totalled £251 million and provided record funding for projects across our area. This funding allowed Lancashire LEP to support projects such as the refurbishment of Brierfield mill, with £3.7 million of funding, and the Burnley-Pendle growth corridor, with £8 million of funding. However, just down the road in Manchester, where I was born, things have gone even faster, with the November 2014 devolutionary deal giving local people greater control over their economy, with powers over transport, housing and policing.

The Bill supports that process by putting in place a legal framework to enable Government to decentralise more power to our cities and counties. Importantly, this will allow areas such as mine to ask the Government for proper devolution. I see decentralisation as key to achieving the north of England’s economic potential, but to be successful, decentralisation must involve not just devolving powers and budgets but have in each place the necessary

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leadership, governance and accountability to ensure that powers are exercised properly and effectively for the benefit of all. I very much welcome the Bill and will be supporting its Second Reading.

6.15 pm

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate.

Our cities, towns and communities, with all their variety and history, are what make Britain truly great. For me, the Bill comes down to a simple but fundamental one nation Conservative belief that local people are best placed to decide the future of their own towns and communities. As with the Localism Act 2011, it is once again this side of the House working to put more power in the hands of local people while the Labour party is doing all it can to stop it.

The Bill will revolutionise the way England is governed, backing initiative and local enterprise to propel our cities and regions forward into economic powerhouses in their own right. Since 2013, local councils have been able to retain 50% of the revenue from business rates, and it is absolutely right that when local areas use their initiative and take bold steps to boost business growth in their area, they see the benefit of that. I am proud that the Government have announced their intention to scrap the uniform business rate. By 2020, local areas will retain 100% of the full stock of business rates they collect. That is £26 billion kept and spent in our local communities instead of being sent down to Whitehall. That will mean stronger incentives for councils to boost growth, and the evidence shows that this will help to boost growth nationally. I agree with the Mayor of Manchester, Tony Lloyd, a respected former Member, who recognises the opportunities for his communities. He knows better than the man from Whitehall what is best for Greater Manchester.

I am delighted that both local authorities in Weaver Vale—Cheshire West and Chester Council and Halton Borough Council—have expressed interest in seeking to negotiate respective devolution deals for my region. Proposals put forward would see Cheshire West and Chester Council join other Cheshire and Warrington local authorities, as part of a traditional county area, to form a Cheshire and Warrington combined authority. Cheshire and Warrington is already one of the strongest performing economies in the north of England, benefiting from high skills and an ideal location that provides a vital strategic link between Merseyside, north Wales, Great Manchester and Staffordshire.

Likewise, Halton Borough Council has, with other local authorities, begun talks to join a Liverpool city region combined authority. A unique opportunity exists for the city region to work with the Government to design a bespoke devolution agreement that provides a long-term vision and strategy to draw down powers, control and resources from central Government in Westminster and Whitehall to the Liverpool city region combined authority for the benefit of local people.

Our great cities and regions each have their own strengths, opportunities and challenges. Local communities working in collaboration with businesses can harness an area’s strengths and specialisms in a way that Whitehall never can. It is vital that we continue devolving power

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to more local communities and regions as we have done with the historic Greater Manchester devolution deal and that we build on the work of the last five years to deliver a northern powerhouse to get the whole country firing on all cylinders. Britain is open for business.

6.18 pm

Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con): Having served as a Lincolnshire county councillor, I welcome the Government’s devolution proposals giving more power to our communities. As chair of the all-party group on local democracy, I work with the excellent National Association of Local Councils, which represents more than 9,000 local councils and wholeheartedly supports the devolution of power to a local level.

One of the main issues people feel strongly about is the sense of detachment from Government and the people who make the decisions that affect their lives. The Bill is an opportunity to devolve power from central Government and closer to the communities affected by the decisions made. It will see regions such as mine and others across the country given far greater power over vital services and allow them to tailor their own local services so that they work for the people using them. Alongside the northern powerhouse, they will be the engine that drives forward growth and opportunities for northern cities that have often been ignored by previous Governments.

I welcome the introduction of a democratically accountable elected mayor. It is an opportunity to attract the brightest and the best from industry to lead innovation and change, and it can make a real difference to our community, helping to restore the public’s trust in those who represent them. However, I believe that the Bill could go further in some areas. I have spoken to our local police representatives who tell me that they, too, would like a voice in the local devolution deal. We have this opportunity to remove the silo mentality and truly have a joined-up approach, in which our local organisations work together for our community and plan for our future.

Speaking as chair of the local democracy group, I would like to see more emphasis placed on the work done by town and parish councils, and more of a role for them in devolution. The National Association of Local Councils has undertaken research showing the widespread frustration among existing councillors that they do not have the powers they need to effect real change in their areas.

We have an historic opportunity with this Bill to empower local councillors, which I believe would have the by-product of encouraging more people to stand for local office and make that unique contribution to their areas. It would also give greater scope for elected mayors to work with communities to achieve the results that work best for them.

I would like to invite the Secretary of State to look into ways through which local, town and parish councillors could be included in the devolution settlement, and I would appreciate an opportunity to meet him to discuss that.

Let me present an example of innovation in town councils that has made a real difference to my local

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area. In my constituency, Morley town council introduced free parking, which has been a major boost to the local high street. That is just one example of the innovative work that can be done locally. This sort of progress shows what towns can achieve through strong local leadership and innovation. We need look only at the British public’s distrust of the supra-national power of the European Union to understand that the Conservative Government are spot on when it comes to assessing the public mood for devolving powers.

6.21 pm

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Before going any further, I should declare an interest as I have shares in a company that gives advice to developers and does community consultation, so I know something about what happens with regeneration.

My city of Plymouth—I am one of the very few MPs on the Government Benches who represents an inner-city seat—has a global reputation for marine science engineering research. We have not only the brilliant Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, but the Marine Biological Association, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the National Marine Aquarium, all of which have been fantastic ingredients in getting us a global reputation for marine science engineering research. Thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his previous job, we gained not only a city deal but an enterprise zone, which has helped to ensure that we get about 1,200 new jobs.

My city is a low-wage and low-skills economy: 38% of its working people end up in the public sector. We desperately need to make sure that we get more private investment into our city, so that we can continue to grow. I very much hope that this Bill will give us the powers to be able to achieve that.

There are two reasons why people might want to locate their businesses in my city: first, on account of the skills, and, secondly because of the need to get things to market, which means we need a better transport system. During the course of the last five years, I have consistently campaigned to get more three-hour train journeys from London to Plymouth and to make sure that the trains get in before 9 o’clock in the morning. If they do not, it means people will not be able to do a full day’s work. Another two important considerations are making sure that the city is crime free and linking the national health service and social care. Those are the ingredients.

I will certainly vote for the Bill tonight, and I look forward to finding out how the Government will respond to make sure that we become a city that will improve and have much better public growth as well.

6.24 pm

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): I support the Bill, as a Member representing a city that has benefited greatly from devolution. The project of devolving powers to a city led by a directly elected mayor has been successful in London, and it is time that it was rolled out across the country, albeit with the flexibility to ensure that it is appropriate for the areas in question. This Government were elected with a promise to

“devolve powers and budgets to boost local growth in England.”

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I am pleased to support them in keeping that promise tonight by voting for the Second Reading of a Bill that will provide a framework for further devolution and promote democratic accountability.

The United Kingdom stands out as one of the most centralised countries in the developed world. In Canada the level of taxes controlled at local or regional level is about 10 times higher than it is here, and in Germany it is nearly six times higher. Our position is not only that of an outlier, but also strange, given strong evidence and data that demonstrate that decentralisation is closely associated with both stronger growth and better public services.

English cities have nowhere near the level of local financial control that is experienced by international cities, and their competitiveness is suffering as a result. In the United Kingdom, only London consistently outperforms the national economy. Given the right levels of autonomy and control, cities and regions across the country could outperform it, and could make far bigger contributions to our national prosperity.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), I am a great supporter of further devolution of powers in London—including powers relating to health—but there is a provision that is not included in the Bill, and that is the devolution of control over local business rates that I was particularly delighted to hear about in the Chancellor’s speech. The current system, whereby business rates are set nationally, collected locally, remitted to the Treasury and then returned, less some, to councils, is terribly inefficient.

Kingston Conservatives and the leader of our council, Kevin Davis, have been pushing for that change since we took control of the council last May, and I have had discussions with my right hon. Friend’s Department since being elected in the same month. As a borough that is seeking to attract business, including the headquarters of Lidl UK and a major new hotel, we could benefit greatly from the devolution of business rates: we could collect and retain more, and use it to benefit local people. I very much hope that Kingston will be included in the first wave of the roll-out of the new measures.

I am delighted to support these further devolution measures, and I look forward to joining the Government in the Lobby.

6.27 pm

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): I shall be extremely brief, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I welcome the Bill, I welcome devolution in general, and I encourage Norfolk and Suffolk to discuss together what is possible in our part in the world. In that context, I noted the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). However, I want to raise an extremely narrow point that has found its way into the Bill, as amended by the other place.

In my opinion, clause 20—which amends the Representation of the People Act 1983 to allow a different voting age franchise for local government elections only—is not the right clause for this Bill. I am a proponent of altering the voting age, but I think that we should do it properly and not in a piecemeal fashion, either in this Bill or, for that matter, in the European Union (Referendum) Bill. I refer Members to the arguments that I advanced during the debate on that Bill. I will not rehearse them

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all now, suffice it to say that we would all wish to engage young people more with politics: there are advocates of that throughout the House. Devolution, in a general sense, performs that function, and I welcome its ability to improve engagement with people of any age outside this place. I advocate lowering the voting age because I think it is a big signal that we can send to young people that they are welcome in our democracy. However, this Bill is not the way to do that, because it would only end up as a piecemeal reform. I advanced the same argument in relation to the European Union (Referendum) Bill.

Let us do young people the respect of considering that reform properly, and let us have the debate fully. Let us not deal with the issue in this Bill, because it sticks out like a sore thumb among all the other strong and passionate arguments that have been presented today in favour of devolution and in favour of cities and counties, and in respect of all the huge issues that are raised in the substance of the Bill. I call on the Government to allow for a fuller review of the issue. The Minister was on the record earlier today making this point: we should not be doing this reform piecemeal. We should be doing it properly, so let us have the time to do so and let us focus on the issues that are properly for this Bill in this debate.

6.30 pm

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): The Chancellor and Secretary of State have grandly heralded a devolution revolution, but in fiscal terms the measures in the Bill, even with business rate retention tacked on, are baby steps by European standards. However, it is the general direction of travel that is important, and we are empowering local communities, freeing them from Whitehall control to pursue the right policies for their area. What the Government are proposing is more effective local government, closer to the people it serves.

Let us be clear about certain things. This is a Conservative Government giving power away in many instances to an Opposition party locally. It is an act of political altruism. It is not a top-down centralised plan. It is not a warmed-over revival of the metropolitan county councils. This Government seek reform from the bottom up, with new powers released from Whitehall to overlay but not replace existing local arrangements. This is not going to change who people’s councillors are or who collects their rubbish. It is very important that, as we empower these areas, we do not undermine or lose the individual identities of the towns within them. In Solihull, we are very proud of our strong economy, entrepreneurial spirit and fierce independence. My constituents are rightly wary of being subsumed into what was once bogusly termed “Greater Birmingham”, but I can see that local concerns are sympathetically treated in this Bill. This is about enabling localities rather than dictating from the centre, and I am heartened by the Secretary of State confirming, yet again, in response to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), that what has been termed the “devo max” model will not be imposed on the west midlands.

The key question must be: if something goes wrong, who can the public look to for answers? Who can they hold to account? Who is it that they can fire? That is why the west midlands is now looking at having an elected mayor, but one where the role of the mayor is constrained by a group of council leaders. At best, the

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mayor will be first among equals. The bridge of trust the Government have built by engaging in local concerns will be vital in delivering a devolution deal that best reflects the needs and aspirations, and not just with the poster boy of the process in Greater Manchester, but beyond.

The Government’s devolution revolution offers many parts of the country the opportunity to take control of their affairs and unlock their economic potential. It offers the best chance of deals that provide a responsive, effective and empowered local government.

6.33 pm

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I am delighted to speak in favour of this Bill. The devolution debate has reached fever pitch in Yorkshire, and much has happened over the summer recess, but I have never believed that the greatest opportunities for devolution should be restricted to the big cities. Everyone—city and county—must take maximum benefit from devolution. South Yorkshire has secured its own devolution settlement, so what will happen to the remaining parts of Yorkshire—west Yorkshire, east Yorkshire, north Yorkshire and Hull—which combine our ports, industry, energy opportunities, fishing and agriculture, and thriving tourism? A Greater Yorkshire bid would bring together 3.7 million people, a population to rival that of Berlin, Madrid and even Los Angeles.

Talk of creating a northern powerhouse is misguided, as such a force already exists. The north has a rich history of industry, being at the centre of the industrial revolution. More recently, just last year in fact, the combined turnover of Yorkshire’s top 250 companies rose by nearly 11%, to stand at £118 billion. We have the skills, the entrepreneurship and, above all, the Yorkshire spirit. What we need from Government is investment, better transport links and more infrastructure to transform our Yorkshire economy to rival that of the south. We have heard much about the north-south divide, but I believe that Government support in the form of—let us be blunt about it—hard cash will enable us to become an equal partner to the south. Together, north and south, we can fight for our share of the global economy.

One thing we do not want, as everyone on the Government Benches will agree, is increased costs of government. We must cut the costs of the provision of services, rather than cutting services. We want to work together, led by a strong, inspirational and visionary mayor. In Yorkshire we have never been short of candidates to bat for our county. We have great business people and, of course, that great Yorkshire spirit. What we need now is investment in our roads, our railways and our housing, in training young people and in health and social care, energy and creative business finance. I am 100% behind the Bill and behind a greater Yorkshire bid so that we can all pull together to make Yorkshire once again an even greater county.

6.36 pm

Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): This Bill will ensure that local people have a greater say in the development of their own communities, and I welcome that, but will the Secretary of State be even more

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ambitious? I represent a constituency in Cambridgeshire, a world-class leader in education, research and entrepreneurship, and I would like to outline, first, why devolved powers are so essential to this region, and secondly, what particular powers we need to realise our full potential.

Cambridge is home to one of the world’s top universities. Twenty-five of the world’s largest corporations have established operations in Cambridge, including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. There are 20,000 registered companies generating £30 billion in revenues. Cambridge does not compete with Manchester or Birmingham. Its competitors are Indonesia, India, Singapore and San Francisco. But Cambridge will maintain its standing in the world only if it can continue to attract an international workforce, and it can do that only if it remains an attractive place to live and work.

Last week I, together with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), was at the launch of “The Case for Cambridge”, with entrepreneurs, local academics, local authority leaders from all parties and 200 business leaders from sectors ranging from aerospace to engineering, all expressing exactly the same sentiment, which was summed up by Antony Mattessich, the managing director of an American company, Mundipharma International. He said that he is losing his staff to international centres, and unless our city can address some of its critical infrastructure needs, it is at risk of losing its position as a desirable place for companies to start up or relocate to.

Cambridgeshire is not asking for hand-outs; it is not asking for Government investment. It is simply asking for the power to raise money itself to invest in its own future. So will the Secretary of State consider allowing increment financing deals underpinned by increased tax revenues that will provide capital for infrastructure? Will he consider a relaxation of the housing revenue debt cap or the ability to provide private sector infrastructure bonds? Will he welcome the investment by the new consolidated pension funds as seed capital for further investment?

If Cambridge is in a position to unlock this investment, it can plan for its own future. This funding does not need to be backed by central Government, but it needs to be available. I was extremely pleased to hear the Secretary of State recognise many times in his opening speech that a proposal for one place is not necessarily the right proposal for other places, and that a bespoke approach must be taken. It would be wrong to say that this approach is not appropriate—

Mr Speaker: Order. I do apologise, but we must proceed. I call Mr Richard Graham.

6.39 pm

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me as tail-end Charlie in this most stimulating debate on an issue close to every heart in the House.

Four summers ago a French woman in Gloucester came and asked for some work experience, and I asked her to do a report on our city—all the things she found most impressive and most disappointing—and make recommendations on what we could do to improve. She did so and it was a very good report, but she ended with a question: who was in charge? I explained the role of

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our city council, responsible for some of the services, the city council leader, responsible for its strategy, and the chief executive for its implementation, with a similar arrangement at shire hall with the county council responsible for other services, the fire and rescue services funded through the shire hall, the constabulary partly funded there, with political responsibility moving to a newly elected PCC, adding that health was a bit more complicated, with three NHS trusts, a local commissioning group, NHS England and so on. She interrupted me and said, “You see I’ve asked many people this question, Mr Graham, and no one knows the answer. In my town in France the person in charge is the Mayor and everybody knows that, everybody knows his or her name, the buck stops there and we vote for them or against them every few years.”

I thought of answering with a description of checks and balances, influence and power, consensus versus pocket dictators and so on, but it would not have answered her question. This Bill does, however. It gives, not for the first time because our municipal statues and histories tell us it was once so, real power and accountability to local areas and individuals. The story of Austen Chamberlain’s time as Mayor of Birmingham alone should inspire devolution and belief in local solutions for local issues.

The question is equally relevant for our counties as for our cities: who is in charge of Gloucestershire? Who is responsible for an overall strategy for our county? The answer of course is no one body. There are lots of different institutions with lots of different strategies, but there is no one who can pull the whole thing together and, for example, allocate resources between police and hospitals, which are of course funded from different central Government silos. If business rates are to be retained, business should have a say in how they are reinvested. That does not happen at the moment.

I believe we can do things faster and better. I trust this Bill and I trust the people of Gloucestershire to make the best decisions for our county. There will be issues to be resolved. Mayors, executive mayors and counties are not in our DNA at the moment but we will find a way through that and this Bill is the start of what could be an exciting process.

6.42 pm

Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): I thank everyone who has taken part in what has been an excellent debate with many thoughtful contributions. I will try to refer to at least some of them.

Devolution across the regions and cities of this country is long overdue. Britain is one of the most over-centralised countries in the world but in an age where we need to unleash the ideas, creativity and innovation of every part of our country, we can no longer allow power to be hoarded at the centre. In some respects England is the last colony of the British empire, and England in particular needs a new devolved constitutional settlement. It is time to get power out of Whitehall and into the hands of people who can use it more effectively. I congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing this Bill forward. It is a positive step and we welcome that, but it needs to go further. The Government still do not have a real vision for what a more devolved Britain might be. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen)

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says, this must be the start of a journey of liberation, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) says, lines of accountability must always be crystal-clear.

In my opinion the real champions of devolution are those Labour councils like Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle who were pushing for devolution long before this Government understood its importance, and who still demand a better deal for their communities than the Chancellor has so far allowed. The Opposition are aware of the risks of replacing national centralisation with local centralisation. Deals that merely shift powers from Whitehall to town halls risk bypassing the people and communities whose lives are affected by decisions they still would not be able to control.

We need a deeper devolution—a new settlement that moves power in every case as close as possible to the people it affects. There must be more powers for cities and city regions over major areas like transport, housing, infrastructure and economic growth, and as my hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) say, that must include London. We support fiscal devolution, too, but only alongside a fair equalisation mechanism. New powers must allow smaller towns and counties to shape their own destinies as well, and we need a new vision for public services that gives their users power over the decisions taken about them. That, too, is part of devolution.

My hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) and for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) made the point that we cannot devolve power without resources, yet there are fears that the Government will impose even harsher cuts on top of the 40% cuts that local government has already suffered since 2010. Let us take the example of the Government’s devolution of council tax support. They cut it by 10% but then made local councils take the blame. If this Government want to avoid the charge that they simply want to localise the blame for cuts imposed from the centre, they will need to behave very differently in future. I believe that the Secretary of State is sincere in his support for devolution, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) said, he will need to work much harder in order to win all his colleagues over to the cause.

Free schools have no local oversight; they are accountable only to Whitehall. The Work programme was designed and delivered from the centre. Communities facing a housing crisis are witnessing the forced sale of desperately needed social housing to comply with the centralised decision for which the Secretary of State is personally responsible. Frankly, this needs to stop. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) said, devolution deals would be better if the communities affected by them helped to shape them, but that is not the Government’s present approach. City leaders are told that if they engage local business or community leaders in making their devolution bids, their bids might be refused. Furthermore, the Treasury has told them that if they make public what they are bidding for, it will slam the door shut. We need a much more transparent and open approach. The result would be much better devolution deals with bigger support from the local communities.