Devolution: seizing the opportunities, avoiding the threats

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2015 National Delegate Conference
2 February 2015

Conference notes that issues around the scale of governance have come to the fore in political debate in recent months. Questions that have become more prominent in the political discussion include:

1)The relationship between the UK and Europe;

2)The relationship between the nations of the UK;

3)The relationship between central and local government.

Conference notes recent agreements between the Con-Dem Coalition Government and some Combined Authority (CA) areas.

a)In Greater Manchester, the CA was established in 2011. In November 2014, it was agreed with the Treasury that additional powers and resources would be transferred to the CA in the areas of transport, planning, housing, health and social care, skills and business support, early years, policing and justice. A newly-constituted Greater Manchester mayor will lead on transport, housing and policing;

b)In West Yorkshire, a combined authority was established in April 2014. The CA signed a growth deal with the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in November 2014. The deal is claimed to bring more jobs, homes and transport funding to the area. There is no requirement or agreement to have a new mayor position;

c)In Sheffield, the city region CA was set up in April 2014. The Local Enterprise Partnership agreed a growth deal in July 2014, and then the CA agreed a devolution deal with the Deputy Prime Minister in December 2014. The devolution deal covers areas including skills, housing, transport and growth. Again, there is no requirement or agreement to have a new mayor position;

Conference supports the following principles in relation to devolution:

i)That public services are best delivered directly by democratically accountable bodies;

ii)That public sector bodies should work together where possible and appropriate. This holds some potential for cost savings and service improvements within the public sector;

iii)That employment standards should be adopted in the delivery of public services – binding all employers;

iv)That public bodies should promote sustainable economic, environmental and social well-being;

v)That it is important that people feel connected to civic politics, with opportunities for engagement and participation.

Conference believes that:

A)The devolution of powers from Central Government to a more local level offers potential for real improvements in economic performance and the quality of life;

B)Voters have shown little enthusiasm for taking part in elections to choose directly-elected mayors or Police Commissioners. Nine out of ten English cities rejected having elected members in referendums in 2012. Executive mayors who cover large geographical areas are likely to be remote and unaccountable figures;

C)Devolution alone cannot overcome the problems of chronic underfunding of public services. There is a danger that in a context of austerity, devolution of power can simply mean the devolution of choices about how to make cuts.

Conference instructs the National Executive Council to:

I)Support devolution arrangements that hold the prospect of protecting public services and promoting quality jobs;

II)Support devolution of public spending decisions to a more local level and pursue devolution in towns and counties as well as cities;

III)Oppose changes in governance that facilitate cuts and privatisation;

IV)Continue to campaign against austerity and for fair funding for public services across the UK;

V)Seek the inclusion of employment charters that bind all employers delivering public services over the widest geographical area possible;

VI)Demand that devolved political structures are based on improved accountability to citizens rather than to central government;

VII)Conduct a review of alternative models for democratically-accountable governance in the English regions. The review should consider the potential role of newly-constituted regional assemblies. The review should report back with recommendations to Conference 2016.