Consistency in Devolution

I saw first-hand growing up in Scotland the ability Devolved Government has to impact and change lives. Growing up in Inverclyde in the late ’90s and early 00’s we had ranked consistently among the highest rates for drug and alcohol abuse. At one point regarding the ‘Heroin Capital’ of the UK, with overwhelming numbers in the area registering an addiction problem.

The reality then was depending on the area you grew up in; it was more likely for you to encounter hard drugs than go on to further education. The reality was the area was hit by a long-term economic depression brought on by the dismantling of traditional industries in the 1980s, with little to no alternatives and a brain drain elsewhere.

The work delivered by the Scottish Government in 2001, led by a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition was vital in addressing and tackling those issues. With local drug agencies coordinating efforts with the then local Police unit and tackling these issues from a health and criminal perspective where necessary. Also, the establishment of a Regeneration organisation, with national-level funding to not only improve local housing and reduce poverty but focus on improving the area’s image and employment opportunities.

So why am I highlighting this specific example?

I am now living south of the border, in the East Midlands to be exact. We continue to see a patchwork approach to devolving powers from Whitehall, with some Metro-mayors having more powers than others which not only confuses the general public greatly but leads to immense frustration.

That’s why I’m backing calls for the creation of an East Midlands Combined Authority with an elected Mayor with a base covering Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

Recently I’ve been involved in co-founding the Lib Dems for the Heart of England group, which will cover both West & East Midlands. However, if we are to continue to grow on par with neighbouring cousins, we must have the same ability to pool and share resources.

My great friend and colleague Michael Mullaney summed up expertly the challenges facing the East Midlands region. They are exacerbated, exponentially by Covid19.

Our regional economy is backboned by the manufacturing industry with the sector accounting for some 17% of regional output, way above the national average of 10%.

The sector also accounts for 13% of the East Midlands workforce, which is the highest proportion anywhere in the UK.

We know there are likely to be large scale cuts in workforces, with decreased demand for cars and aeroplanes as an example. Job losses in major industries affect the entire region, meaning a coordinated response is more likely to succeed in securing work and trades for the area.

I still find it unbelievable that one of our ‘crown jewels’ in East Midlands Airport, is owned and operated by a company majority-owned by the combined Manchester Councils.

We need a big voice, advocating and prioritising the issues affecting people at sub-national levels. Otherwise, with the current pick-n-mix approach to Devolution, we will continue to see a two-tier approach to tackling inequality.

Let’s unlock the potential of both parts of the Midlands by giving people the ability to decide the issues closest to home that needs to be addressed.

* I'm a Liberal Democrat member having joined last year from Labour, I was previously Chair and Founder of the YF Devolution and Local Government Committee

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3 Comments

  • Gordon Lishman 7th May '20 - 11:00am

    Thank you, David. I’m entirely convinced by the essence of your case about devolution. I am, however, worried about the core Combined Authority approach partly because of those left behind. What happens to Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, and even Rutland? It’s a challenge very plain to those of us on the edge of Metro Mayor authorities and large combined authorities – in my case, just north of Greater Manchester. It seems to me that you are still in the “pick and mix” territory.
    I think you are also talking about enhanced local government rather than a federal structure – again leaving the UK virtually alone amongst larger states in the world.

  • David McKenzie 7th May '20 - 7:43pm

    Hey Gordon!

    Hope you and the family are keeping well.

    I absolutely agree it’s not a perfect solution to the entirety of regional devolution. I think there needs to be a review of, as you say small communities that fall outside combined authority areas.

    Obviously including other areas of the East Midlands would make it probably too large to function, this was taking in the triangular Metro and surrounding areas that are economically dependent.

    I would absolutely agree, we need much more local level devolution to councils to tackle a lot of problems too.

    David

  • Where Northamptonshire lies in East Midlands is a thorny question. But we should as a party be keen for morr regional authorities and devolution. It makes things more local and this is party is stronger locally then nationally at the moment. If we are doing fantastic at a local level it will soon create the momentum for a national representation

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