Devolution to the English Regions is not just a good thing – it’s absolutely essential.

The problems of the UK will never be solved while the whole of the Country is dominated by Westminster and Whitehall. I have believed that for all the 51 years I have been a member of our Party (or its predecessor!) I believe it now and that is why I am more than a little disappointed with the policy paper and motion being sent from the FPC to Party Conference. It just isn’t strong enough, urgent enough or angry enough!

Whilst still a Liberal member I was asked on Radio 4 to respond to the parody often created then of the average Liberal member being a long-haired, real ale drinker in sandals. My parody is somewhat different. I said then and I say now of our Party we protest with a campaign song which goes:

“What do we want?”

“Gradual Change”

“When do we want it?”

“As soon as possible please if that’s all right with you old chap”.

I’m afraid that is just not good enough for me. For almost all political life I have been a campaigner in Liverpool. I have held all sorts of positions when we controlled the Council and for my first 22 years as a Councillor represented some of the poorest communities in the Country. I have always been aware during that time that the needs of the poorest of our communities have been held back by policies devised by nice people, often well meaning, in Whitehall and Westminster but who have absolutely no ideas what it is like to live in a ‘Toxteth’ or a ‘Sparkbrook’.

Policies are created to look at the needs of those who live in the London Evening Standard catchment area – and not even the poorest bits of that.

The centralisation of power in London has dragged many of the brightest, most capable and most articulate away from using their talents in the great Northern Cities and Towns. This has reduced our capacity to create good jobs in good businesses. The creative talents of the North fuel what has been an overheating economy of the South East. This is not good for the South-East. Staggering house prices; long commutes and a poor environment are the price paid for that overheating.

At Conference we will be debating a motion supported by a policy paper that I have had a hand in creating. The motion is looking at the way that the UK is governed with a particular look at the way England is governed. It’s not that there is anything in the paper that I disagree with. It’s just that it’s all a bit anaemic. It’s just not angry enough about the Stalinist control that Westminster and Whitehall have over ‘the provinces’.

Arguably, England is the most centralised state in Western Europe. Bureaucrats in Whitehall and politicians in Westminster micro manage communities throughout the country. They do it by the creation of laws and Statutory Instruments and enforce their rule through a series of inspectorates and regionally based bureaucrats such as Children’s Commissioners.

This is rigorously enforced by the financial controls that Westminster imposes. The theory of localism and do what you think is right is supplanted by ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Liberal Democrats think that this centralisation is wrong. Liberal Democrats believe that decisions over policies and spending should be made at the lowest possible and practical level. These levels will be different for different types of activity. 

A more muscular liberalism would want urgently to break the power of Westminster and Whitehall over issues of a domestic nature which should rightly be decided by those who have a clear understanding of the nature of problems and can devise local solutions.

  • The lowest level would be the neighbourhood perhaps 5,000 people
  • Then the district around 100,000 people
  • Then the Town or City – between 250,000 and 750,000 people
  • Then the County or Conurbation – between 750,000 and 2,500,000 people
  • Then the region which, following the devolved governmental system could be up to 5 million people.

I recognise that this will mean systems that look different in different parts of the Country. This is right. The way you provide services in a heavily rural area should look very different to the way they are provided in a heavily urban area.

I don’t want elected bodies at all these levels unless there is a strong demand for them. Our key aim is to involve more people in the design and delivery of services and particularly to ensure that are able to influence the decision-making process. This can be achieved through a variety of structures working within differing democratic structures.

But where the motion and the paper both fall woefully short is in two key regards:

  1. It says little about taxation powers. We need at a much more local level to decide which taxes we need and which we don’t which would include specific taxes which are relevant to specific areas. 
  1. It doesn’t begin to define the things that ‘London’ should stop doing and leave to us. A good point here is the failure to mention the NHS. It pains me to say so but the Manchester NHS devolution is going well. Money is being spent to meet local needs and priorities. But the list should not end with health. There is no reason why all local transport decisions; training; economic development and employment initiatives; housing and the environment and much more could not be made by people at the appropriate regional or local level in a democratic and transparent way.

The Lib Dem policy paper and motion hint at this but tease you into believing that this is a radical document whilst not really going far enough.

A few years ago, the BBC did a survey which asked people which City was England’s second city. The Brummies said Birmingham; the Geordies said Newcastle and the Mancies said Manchester. The Scousers said London! Of course, we think this is the best city in the Country but we will never achieve our potential whilst London holds the powers and purse strings. Power to the People!

As a Party we need to be angrier; louder and more muscular. Gradual change will not deal with those people who will die 12 years earlier because of their lack of opportunity and a decent job and a decent home in a decent community. We must be angry enough to demand that we break the power structures of England to release the powers and creativities of the rest of the Country. “What do we want?” “Change” “When do we want it?” “Now!!”

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE is the Leader of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats.

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  • John Marriott 7th Aug '18 - 9:30am

    @Richard Kemp
    Absolutely, Mr Kemp. Some of us (well, at least me – and mainly on LDV) have been saying it for years! As for when it should happen? Would asap be soon enough?

    Now for the nitty gritty. What we need is a ‘Federal. UK on the lines of Germany. Let’s start at the top of the pyramid. The Federal Parliament, elected by PR (STV, Regional Lists, or a combination of FPTP and Lists as in Germany – take your pick), should elect a Government whose responsibility was clearly defined to things like Foreign Affairs, Defence of the Realm, Economic Strategy, with powers to raise taxes to cover these areas. We could have a secon revising chamber made up of delegates chosen by the parliaments (but NOT elected) in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the 5/6 English Regions, with numbers based on population size.

    Everything else, including tax raising powers, should be DEVOLVED to the ‘nations’ of the UK including the English Regions ( which I shall call ‘areas’ from now on). Each area will elect a parliament/assembly (by PR of course). Within each area will be a series of Unitary Councils and below them Town and Parish Councils. And that’s it. How you divvy out the responsibilities between them may vary slightly throughout the areas; but I guess it would be similar to how we do it now.

    The problem with Richard’s list is, in my opinion, that there are just too many layers of government, both local and national. (I reckon it would make six times according to his ‘plan’). It’s hard enough to get people to vote now. How often should people expect to vote? I reckon around four times over a five year period. So, no matter where you live in the U.K., you will be entitled to vote to elect 1. A Federal Parliament (probably based in Westminster) 2. An Assembly/Parliament for your area 3. A Unitary Authority 4. A Town/Parish/Neighbourhood Council. I reckon most people could manage that. Oh, and one more thing, make it harder to get a postal vote. If people can walk for miles to queue at polling stations in countries emerging into democracy, why can’t we at least do the same?

  • Sue Sutherland 7th Aug '18 - 10:44am

    I totally agree with the premis of this article – that decisions should be made at local level, but there could then be a problem of services varying drastically between different areas. We sometimes see this in the NHS when a treatment is available in one area but not in another. I’m not sure if the paper addresses this problem and whether there should be a minimum service level monitored by central government or perhaps a mechanism for buying in services available in different areas.
    It’s likely that this failure would occur when dealing with problems that are important to a minority group in the area but not to the majority and as Lib Dems we wish to help minorities not hinder them.

  • I disagree with John’s first comment. We should start not at the top but at the bottom. In a *confederation* it would be for the more local sovereign bodies to decide what powers to hand over to any federal level body.

    And if they are going to be radically revolutionary, there are probably things we can do at a more local level to get the process going. Withdraw cooperation from Westminster for instance. Develop our own social safety nets locally through cooperative agencies. Go and open our own EU negotiations through the Committee of the Regions for those who disagree with Westminster’s negotiating position. Undermine it at every opportunity.

    It was with half a mind on Richard Kemp’s history of radicalism that I started the process in Liverpool and the north-west in my essay for the Liberal Britain essay competition last year:

  • John Marriott 7th Aug '18 - 11:15am

    @Sue Sutherland
    Your comments are very apposite. While I don’t know much about health provision (other than as a receiver rather than as a giver) I do know something about education. Sorry to be pedantic; but it reminds me of how they do things in a Federal country. When I was teaching in West Germany in the middle 1970s there Had been a movement to reform 6th forms by introducing a points system for university qualification. Any educational change required agreement from the Education Ministers of all ‘Bundesländer’, through the delightfully named ‘Ständige Konferenz der Kultusminister’. This was finally agreed and more socialist inclined Länder, such as the one where I was teaching, began the process of change almost immediately, despite some opposition from some teacher unions. That was in 1974. Scroll forward to 1983 and, when I took an exchange party to a school in a more conservative inclined ‘Land’, these reforms had only just gone through. I suppose that’s how democracy works, but they all get there in the end. ‘Vive la différence ‘?

  • Tom Papworth 7th Aug '18 - 11:21am

    I agree, Richard, but it is easier said than done. Lib Dems are as bad as anyone at imposing duties on local authorities. When we were in government I suggested to our local government minister thatour government’s reduction of grant funding to local authorities should have been accompanied by a reduction in statutory duties for local authorities – it’s no good taking their money away while expecting them to continue to do all 7,000 things that the government requires of them. He looked at me as though I was mad.

    Take, for example, the duty to provide a library service. There is absolutely no reason why local voters cannot decide for themselves whether their local authority should provide a local library service. This does not need to be a diktat from on high. Yet I’ve had rows with Lib Dems who belive that libraries are good things, that local authorities should provide them, and therefore removing the obligation to provide them is unconscionable.

    The sad truth is that we are all for devolution as long as the devolved authorities do what we want. But whenever there is something we think is valuable or worthwhile we are more than happy to pass a law that says it must be done.

  • Probably Andrew Stunnell or Don Foster. And certainly the former had done just such an “apprenticeship” both as an elected member and as an officer at ALDC.

  • Mick Taylor 7th Aug '18 - 12:15pm

    I don’t often agree with John Marriott, but his four tiers are just what we need. ALL must be elected by STV. No other choice of voting system puts the voter in charge. Where I disagree with him is over a non-elected second or revising chamber. If people are going to be passing laws they must be elected. They can be elected on a different area basis instead of 4-5 STV constituencies and for a longer period.
    Where I do disagree with Richard Kemp is in his view that a devolved system should be a choice. Yes, the area can be debated and agreed, but if we’re going to get power out of Whitehall and London then it has to happen everywhere. Otherwise we’ll have two different UKs. One part run from London as now and one part with devolved powers and tax raising ability. Please remember that the Liberal Government that granted home rule to Ireland envisaged similar proposals for Scotland and Wales and the regions of England, but the small matter of WW! got in the way.
    Also, some very vocal people, who don’t understand any of this, will object on principle to more elected bodies, because of their view of politicians. If we want to do this NOW, then when we get the chance we must seize the moment and get on with it. Put it in the manifesto and implement it.
    When you couple radical change in governance with tackling inequality through greater employee involvement in companies (involving even more elections) then you are talking radical change and serious involvement of greater democracy in everyone’s lives.

  • If you impose a structure it’s not really a federation/confederation of more or less sovereign entities. Just yet another restructuring of local/regional government at the whim of Westmonster politicians (and, presumably, withdrawable by the next lot of Westmonster politicians).

    We should want people to demand to “take back power” from SW1 rather than have it thrown at them. We already have a two or rather multi-system UK with different regional and local arrangements having been the norm for decades.

    Once one area does demand to secede (virtually that’s what we’re asking for – secession and then a renegotiation of federal level reserved powers), the rest will follow in case they’re missing out on something 🙂 But I have no concerns about having, say, Liverpool run most of its own affairs and only hand some residual power to Westminster, while the latter may run “undevolved” regions until they too decide to demand the powers. In a similar way to how “incorporated” and “unincorporated” areas work in the USA.

  • The obvious way to immediately pursue the devolved agenda is via the Metro Mayors. All, without exception are calling for greater devolution of powers and in particular tax raising and borrowing powers for skills training, housing, transportation and infrastructure development

  • Neil Sandison 7th Aug '18 - 2:18pm

    The real problem is the disconnect between large but remote bodies where little engagement except at voting times occurs .City Mayors are the exception largely because it is an identifiable locality with geographical parameters .We are on the edge of the West Midlands ,(Only because they didnt want to call it Greater Birmingham ) I feel no afinity with Andy Streeter or Wolverhampton .The old Coventry Solihull and Warwickshire area at least some legitimacy .Big amorphic regions with no heart have always failed the test of time.

  • On regional government we should build from where we are. I would love to see regional assemblies because as Richard Kemp says too much “regional” business goes through Westminster with too little thought and many services such as transport and health would benefit from being tailored to local needs by people actually in the area not hundreds of miles away in London.

    I think the way ahead is to build on what is already happening in Manchester, West Midlands etc and bring it closer to the London model – democratising it with directly elected regional assemblies/authorities alongside the directly elected Mayors – the Greater Manchester regional assembly. These regional assemblies would be smaller than I would like. But unfortunately there is not a very strong regional identity in England which has been ruled centrally for 2000 years. Unlike in Germany and America where independent sovereign areas have come together into a federation within the last few hundred years. No-one says they are from the South East of Britain as an identity – Portsmouth, Hampshire, the South Coast may be but not the South East. And this applies broadly to the rest of the country.

  • Mick Taylor 7th Aug '18 - 3:10pm

    You can’t build on a system that is inherently anti democratic and concentrates total power in the hands of 1 person instead of a representative group elected by STV. OK so some Mayors (mostly Lib Dems) have involved lots of people in decision making but you only have to look at Richard Kemp’s own Mayor in Liverpool to see how badly that can go wrong.
    When local government was created in the 19th century our Liberal forebears just got on with it. They had a vision and they created it. We will be arguing in to the next century of we wait until people demand the sort of devolution we want.
    You prevent it being changed by the central government by establishing a written constitution with entrenched powers for regional and local government, but that is not something we can wait for. We have to campaign for a federal UK and implement it if we get the chance and follow that up with a written constitution that has serious safeguards against it being changed without overwhelming political support. (e.g 75% vote in both houses of parliament and approval by (say) 3/4 of devolved assemblies/parliaments.)
    Otherwise we’re back where Richard started with the old joke: What do you want – gradual change. When do you want it – in due course.
    Radical change requires radical action. Let’s go for it.

  • John Marriott 7th Aug '18 - 3:56pm

    @Mick Taylor
    Germany’s second chamber, the Bundesrat, is small and consists of delegates nominated by the 16 Bundesländer. It seems to work quite well. If you have a second elected body you have to have more elections. Surely four lots are enough, aren’t they? It’s hard enough getting people out to vote now.

    @Jock Coats
    Start at the top, I say. Ask yourself just what ‘powers’ would best be kept nationally. Foreign affairs, Defence, the Environment, Economic Development? Everything else should be devolved to the Regions/Nations of the U.K. Once that’s out of the way, then the fun can really begin.

    Things like education need to be decided at Regional level; but, as in Germany, there must be consensus across the board. Roads and infrastructure should also be decided at regional level; but some projects need cooperation between the regions affected. Much of the implementation would rest with the various Unitary Authorities. Maintenance of local infrastructure could be devolved even further down to Parish/Town Councils, where some amalgamations may be necessary to create bodies that are more proactive than some of the bodies w have today. Most important of all, every level should have Tax raising powers, which has got to mean a root and branch reform of local government finance.

  • David Lloyd 7th Aug '18 - 7:55pm

    For clarity sake, my point was on the basis of the first response to this thread looking to give English regions (or 5/6’s) equal standing to the nation’s of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

    Lin Dems should campaign for an upper house made of equally English, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh voices, and then an English parliament which can handle English affairs and devolve powers where it sees fit. Currently you are suggesting a system that gives an unequal (too powerful – see how Tory party demonises Scotland having a greater influence on UK level to win English voters and ultimately the GE) say to an English voice on a UK level and creating equality between regional English voices and national Celtic voices. It is all very UKIP.

  • John Marriott 7th Aug '18 - 8:20pm

    @David Lloyd
    If you drill down you will see that the populations of each of the five or six English Regions are roughly equal to those of the other nations of the U.K. It’s not England’s fault that its total population dwarfs those of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The way to get a level playing field would surely be by dividing England up into regions. The problem, of course, is where to draw the boundaries.

    The answer, in my humble opinion, is not to have four equal parliaments or an ‘Upper House’ with equal representation between the four ‘nations’and certainly not an English Parliament, which would be as south east centric as the current U.K. parliament. What is ‘English’ in any case? A Yorkshireman will have one definition and a Cornishman another, I am sure.

  • David Lloyd 7th Aug '18 - 11:39pm

    I’m not saying don’t divide England into regions and provide greater opportunity for English people on a local level, and I am not saying that it’s Yorkshire’s fault for having a large population and feeling London voices don’t represent Yorkshire. Providing greater local opportunity is a fine idea but so is maintaining and improving the union between four nations. Hopefully you can see that Yorkshire isn’t a country and therefore shouldn’t be treated as equal to Celtic nations which, if it were, would only have the impact of making UK more about England than it currently is – there is such an unequal voice currently that in 2012 people I know in England (one with a PhD) went as England to an Olympic party! The idea that English regions should be treated as equal to Celtic nations is, I’m afraid to say, something that I can see popping up on a UKIP forum.

  • William Fowler 8th Aug '18 - 8:32am

    In complaining about regional disconnect from central politics you miss out the greater possibility that the great mass of people don’t want more politicians and don’t want an expanded political class poking into their lives… having said that an English parliament in the centre of England, a much smaller UK parliament and the house of lords closed down might not be a bad starting point.

  • John Marriott 8th Aug '18 - 8:48am

    @David Lloyd
    With respect, I think you are missing the point. In the numbers game it’s surely all about fairness. The whole point of the exercise is to reduce the dominance of England (population around 52 million) over, say, Scotland (pop just over 5.2 million) or Wales (pop just over 3 million). Let’s get away from thinking of the uniform integrity of the ‘Celtic Nations’, which is no more valid than say, that of ‘Yorkshireness’ or ‘Lincolnshire Yellow bellies’ in economic terms. For example, I get the feeling that a Scottish Highlander harbours similar feelings towards the Lowlands’ ‘elite’ as a Geordie does to the London ‘elite’. I’ve nothing at all against being proud of our origins and the concept of coming from a ‘region’ is a new one for many, but this ‘division’ might just be a way of having your cake and eating it, as someone said recently.

  • Bill Winlow 8th Aug '18 - 8:57am

    Richard Kemp is absolutely right. The motion from FPC to party conference does not address the real issue of English Devolution. I first voted Liberal in 1970 when living in Scotland where devolution was being demanded and for very good reasons. As a native of North East England, it was obvious to me that something of the sort was also necessary for England too. In 1974 I joined the Liberal Party and one of my key reasons for doing so was to get the dead hand of Westminster off the backs of local communities – we were the only party talking sensibly about devolution and fund-raising powers for the nations and regions of the UK. Since then things have gradually got worse for local government with added responsibilities and a long slow diminution if funding which I have witnessed directly, both as a councillor in Leeds and later in Lancashire.

    Central government talks of “Devolution”, but actually means mere “Decentralisation” to city regions resulting in some gain now and a lot of pain later because government still holds the purse strings. Our regional assemblies in the North and East of the UK have been pressing for devolution for some years and but suggested motions have been rejected by conference committee, only for them to come back with a motion that does not address the key issue. In my view this motion ought to be referred back for detailed consideration and for consultation with the regional parties.

  • Steve Spear 8th Aug '18 - 9:09am

    You are right that devolution but not to yet another layer of government. We need to create unitary authorities on average between 500,000 and 1,000,000 with an elected executive. We need to consider whether we have one Mayor or maybe Commissioners for Crime, Health and Social Care etc. In short we need to devolve to a level that is small enough to talk to itself but big enough to talk to the world.

  • Philip Knowles 8th Aug '18 - 9:55am

    I agree with the need for devolution but the regions are too small in this proposal. The Mayor of London has an electorate of 5.7M. The regions proposed here ” could be up to 5 million people.” For the regions to have any real power they need to be the around the same size as London (around 10M?). A group of us in the north are working on a region based on the footprint of Transport for the North which has a population of 16M. A region that size has real clout and could demand proper funding. In transport spending alone London gets over 10 times per head what Yorkshire and Humber gets. But, importantly, the decisions need to be made by the people that they effect not a faceless person in London. They’re talking about Crossrail2 in London. CrossRail1 isn’t complete yet and electrification of the transPennine railway has been postponed.

  • Bill Winlow 8th Aug '18 - 10:46am

    I agree with Philip Knowles, the regions are too small. In addition we should not have too many tiers of government. The other issue is that rural economies are being largely ignored by City Regions so further thought needs to be given as to how we support the areas in between that need to be well supported.

  • Ian Hurdley 8th Aug '18 - 11:51am

    The Spanish system is another good example. Dealing with ‘national/international’ matters is the government in Madrid. The next tier is the autonomous communities of which there are 17 all based on cohesive historic regions. They deal with regional issues including health and social care, education, regional public transport and infrastructure. Below this each community is divided into provinces, usually based on the main city of the area, and finally there are ‘ayuntamientos’ (literally, town halls) responsible for purely local matters.
    I lived for 9 years in a village of 2,500 inhabitants with its own mayor and council and the focus was clearly on what was best for Frigiliana. We were in the Province of Málaga, one of nine provinces which together make up the autonomous community of Andalusia, governed by the Junta. It isn’t a perfect system – what system is? – each town hall appoints its own local police, for example, though they only deal with minor matters, passing anything more serious to the Policia Nacional or the Guardia Civil, but it works a lot better than the current model for England.

  • Innocent Bystander 8th Aug '18 - 12:22pm

    “The whole point of the exercise is to reduce the dominance of England ”

    You might like to ask the English whether they want their nation to be destroyed and Balkanised because its size annoys the Scots.

  • Martin Land 8th Aug '18 - 3:25pm

    A debate we have had since I joined the party in 1973. No doubt, for longer than that. But it’s my experience that when Lib Dems come to power all the talk of empowering people, community politics and popular democracy goes out of the window and we start to look and sound like the Tories. We need to be consistent and start doing what we say. For far too many people in the party community politics, localism and regional devolution are just devices to get elected and not the articles of faith they should be.

  • There are several comments here I would like to reply to but first I would like ask Richard Kemp to get in touch with me. I would like to cooperate on any attempt to call a Reference Back on this motion at Conference.

    I have twice put policy motions to Federal Conference. Bill Winlow and I cooperated on motions for East and NW Region Confs 2015 and these called for fair devolution for all corners of England and for the federal party to start work on forming a proper federal constitutional proposal for the UK. Note also that Yorks&Humber region had already called for a Yorks Parliament with powers similar to those of Scotland and for the Westminster Parliament to be reduced in its remit as befits a national federal Parliament.

    I wrote an open letter to FPC last year outlining my dissatisfaction with the limited remit of the Working Group and mentioned our several regional Motions.

    I was told “there is little appetite for further constitutional reform within the party”.

    I’ve never been sure just how many regions of the English party would constitute an “appetite”. “Go figure…” as our American friends would say.

  • Our attempts to put an end to “first-come-first-served” devolution on demand, our attempts to get the party to work on substantial proposals for the whole UK (with my two motions submitted previously and with work that is ongoing in the North but which I, in South Cambs, am obviously not part of) , have fallen on deaf ears so far. At the consultative session at Spring 2018 many of us were positive that the many comments we made about real constitutional change and substantial devolution within England would result in a Policy Paper with a lot more meat on it, but clearly we are disappointed.

    I am happy to work with any members sager to draft a substantial amendment to F8 but I do suspect that a strong message needs to be sent in the form of a Reference Back.

  • David Raw reminds us of a referendum in 2004 in NE England, which many would say was a rubbish proposal in the first place.

    And since when does devolution mean that because someone rejected something in 2004, the rest of us will never, ever be asked?

  • John Marriott 8th Aug '18 - 4:12pm

    @Innocent Bystander
    I’m afraid you may have missed the point. We are talking about the best way to provide services and not about defending the nation state against foreign powers. That would happen only at Federal level. Clearly, in a Federal Parliament, the number of ‘English’ MPs, coming as they would from however many Regions were created, would clearly outnumber those from the other ‘nations’ of the U.K. I see no problem with that. Nobody wants to ‘balkanise’ anyone, as you put it.

    Devolving real powers away from Westminster would mean decisions on roads, health provision, social care, housing, and much, much more, not forgetting the ability to levy the taxes to pay for them, would rest with local people and not be at the whim of some government minister far away.

    @Martin Land
    My motivation to change the system has nothing to do with enhancing Lib Dem representation at any level. For me, it’s all about fairness and because it makes sense. It certainly isn’t in my case a device to get me elected. I’ve done that and I’ve got the T shirt!

  • Earlier in the comments the spectre of “more politicians” was raised. I think this bogeyman needs laying to rest.

    I believe we need unitary authorities as our lowedtier of government (I’m not including parish/Town councils here, just the borough/city/District/County tiers). It would be foolish, I think, to offer a new regional tier *and* to keep both existing county/district tiers. Unless, of course, the local people positively ask for it (something I personally would find baffling).

    The current county tier is too close in scale to the district tier. There is a massive gulf between county and Westminster. To campaign for regionalisation without also offering wholesale reform of the lower tiers would be a recipe for disaster.

    We need *better* tiers not more, and better politicians not more. The maths is reasonably simple. If you abolish county councils in favour of a unitary tier whose councils might on the whole be larger than current districts (case in point: we here would like South Cambs and City of Cambridge to become a unitary) but have more powers, as well as a regional Parliament say for any population of between 2m and 10m, you end up with *fewer* politicians altogether. But you have a regional government with substantial powers and placed a more sensible “distance” between Westminster and the districts.

    I also think that if parish/Town councils below the principal unitaries were given far more power, this would be a compensation for any increase in size of the unitaries.

  • Innocent Bystander: please refrain from talk of “destroying” England. This is simply – and nothing other than – a system of administration. England is England regardless of whether or not it has an English Parliament within the UK (and equally so if it does not even though Scotland has), and regardless of whether or not it is divided – again purely for the purpose of administration and delivery of services – into regions of any particular size or design.

  • Likewise it ought to be blindingly obvious that Scotland would be no less a country in itself if (say) Yorkshire had a Parliament of its own which, within the structured of the UK, were equal in its powers and significance to the Scottish Parliament.

  • Philip Knowles 8th Aug '18 - 4:47pm

    @David Raw. I’m one of those ‘Yorkshire folk’. I’ve lived in North Yorkshire all my life. As it stands places like Richmondshire will get left behind in the elected mayoral system and small scale devolution.
    You’ve sort of proved my point though. 5M Yorkshire people is half that of London. 16M people with an elected assembly and one layer (district council size) below would have clout to run health, education and transport stuff while the local one can deal with bins, housing and other local services.

  • Mick Taylor’s comments about choice and a two-tier UK were at the heart of the policy motions passed in 2015 by East and NW England and the two motions I tried to put to Federal Conf subsequently.

    “Permissive legislation” to allow districts to choose to form regions, as the new Policy Paper puts it, means that those first off the starting blocks get the deal they want but possibly to the detriment of large swathes of the country which are not part of larger urban areas or which do not get their act together as quickly.

    Proper devolution must be to the whole country and in a manner that empowers us all fairly. This does NOT mean a top-down imposed solution. But it likewise must exclude any bottom-up driven solution which does not have oversight and management of the entire process.

    We cannot have small counties being excluded from a regional system by means of the prior choice of other groups of counties. This is as equally important as what the Paper describes as the need to prevent a veto by any single county/district.

    The regionalisation of England is more about the process than the end result. The process must ensure fair treatment and oversight in parallel to consideration of local ideas and identities (both new and old). The process must work simultaneously from the bottom and the top. This is not rocket science, actually, even if it is an iterative process that in some areas requires more than one consultation or referendum that approach with more than initial boundary solution which are fine-tuned in a interactive manner.

  • Nonconformistradical 8th Aug '18 - 5:02pm

    “We need *better* tiers not more, and better politicians not more.”

    But in this discussion we are paying too much attention to the existing local government structure – when I think we all agree it is pretty useless.

    Go back to square 1. For each of the major areas of services – whatever level they are run at now – start by considering what is the most appropriate size (area and population) needed to run the service effectively.

    That might vary for different services. e.g. transport – some of it is national (major road, rail, air), some differing levels of local (e.g. local road networks, buses).

    Do we really need a national health service? Or do we need more local health and social care services? How should we distribute specialised medical services around the country?


    Only then can we decide how to govern those services and hence what authorities and how many politicians (citizens) we need.

  • Nonconformistradical, it’s not entirely clear to me what you’re suggesting. I don’t believe there is a magic number, a “Goldilocks” population size that is the perfect one for a particular service. All of our current boundaries are arbitrary and in some respects any future boundaries will be arbitrary too. I think regional health services would be better than national but I don’t necessarily insist that a county health service would be a worse idea, nor that some specialist health services should not be dealt with nationally. I also do not contend that historical county boundaries are sacrosanct or that new regions of the UK should be the same size. Quite the opposite. Obviously NI, Wales and Scotland are already significantly different in population and, coupled with notion that it might be odd to suggest that Greater London not be a single region as it is now, it’s clear that any solution is likely to produce parliaments with considerably different electoral sizes.

    However, I do contend that there needs to be a reasonably symmetric distribution of power. It simply isn’t good enough for one small part of the UK to have considerable direct tax-varying powers and legislative powers whilst other parts remain governed remotely by a centralised state.

  • Peter Martin 8th Aug '18 - 5:21pm

    Devolution is possibly a good idea. Possibly a bad idea!

    In any currency union money tends to gravitate towards the already wealthier areas. The SE of England in £ zone. Western Germany and Holland in the € zone.

    So, regardless of any devolution, there does need to be strong central government to force the wealthier areas to part with their £ and €. That does exist in the UK but not in the EU. That’s why we see the problems we do there.

  • Nonconformistradical 8th Aug '18 - 5:32pm

    @Michael Kilpatrick
    “Nonconformistradical, it’s not entirely clear to me what you’re suggesting. I don’t believe there is a magic number, a “Goldilocks” population size that is the perfect one for a particular service.”

    I’m not suggesting there is one magic number. What might work in one area (e.g. densely populated, high level of poverty) might not work in another similar size area with different characteristics. But until we consider these issues properly we have no chance of getting it right. I’d be quite comfortable with authorities of widely varying sizes – as long as our services are effective.

  • Innocent Bystander 8th Aug '18 - 6:54pm

    “Innocent Bystander: please refrain from talk of “destroying” England. This is simply – and nothing other than – a system of administration”

    I was responding to the following

    “The whole point of the exercise is to reduce the dominance of England ”

    and my use of the word “Balkanisation” is a mild foretaste of what the press will do to this proposal. It is, actually, safe from such attacks as it is a non-starter, has been proposed umpteen times and will be emphatically rejected as it has always been.
    Just some logical thought will lead the proposers to the same conclusions the rest of reached long ago.

    Is it to disenfranchise the English dominance , vis-a-vis, the Scots so that one Scottish votes equal eight English ones? Of course, that will never happen.

    “the number of ‘English’ MPs, coming as they would from however many Regions were created, would clearly outnumber those from the other ‘nations’ of the U.K.”

    That is what we have now.

    Is it then “a system of administration”?

    Is it to create “Super Counties” who just have more roads to mend and bins to empty?
    Only sellable if it comes with lots of redundancies in local government officials and local politicians.

    But here is the killer

    ” considerable direct tax-varying powers ”

    is that right? Tax? So London and the wealthy Home Counties can reduce their tax? Or will they be taxed more to fund a load of mini-Barnett formulas to transfer their money to the North West and the North East etc?
    Who will dictate this transfer? The “UK” parliament – so the Scots will transfer London’s money but Londoners have no say in Scottish tax? We have that now. Will it be a “Federal Senate” with four nations all with equal say? That is England disenfranchised.
    An English Parliament then? Will there be another parliament over that?

    So this fantasy will be ignored as have all its predecessors.

  • I’m inclined to agree with David Raw on the issue of a monster Northern Region, although if it’s the only option that can gain traction, so be it. Having something five times less remote than Westminster is better than nothing but it would not be my preferred choice.

    What I think is more important than the question of size is the matter of how to handle our large cities in relation to rural areas. I am vehemently opposed to metro regions which effectively hive off large cities from their surroundings and allow them to go in their own direction of devolution which is highly likely to involve (ultimately) a degree of devolution which a region of smaller population or less dense rural area would not be capable of sustaining and could result in inferior devolution. I think the putative regions should be large enough to include the metropolitan areas within them but not such that they are excessively dominant over the rural subregions. The exception to this is Greater London which has become so big that there is little to do other than make it a region in its own right. No constitutional arrangement for the UK will ever be “tidy” thanks to the asymmetry between the home nations and the asymmetry between London and the rest of England.

    Those of us who live in villages whether close to or far from major towns/cities must be fairly empowered at a local and regional level. The lower tiers of local govt will likely always provide us with a reasonably fair voice but at a regional level there must be a fair balance within a regional parliament between urban and rural constituencies. So, I suggest that Greater Manchester or Birmingham should not be regions in their own right but instead part of larger regions.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Aug '18 - 7:03pm

    Though this might bore you, devolution cannot be decreed, it must be agreed to by the people involved in a referendum. The people should choose what degree they want. An independent body should draw up a menu of options and subject them to a region as a pilot.

  • John Marriott 8th Aug '18 - 7:45pm

    As the person, who started this thread off yesterday I am pleased that Richard Kemp’s piece has generated so many interesting comments. Aside from the odd ‘agent provocateur’ most contributors seem to think that we can’t go on as we are – and it’s about time that the great BRITISH public woke up to that fact too, while there is still time to do something about it.

    Having read the comments I still believe in the four tier solution:
    *Federal Parliament (with Second Revising Chamber nominated by the Regions
    *Regional Assembly/Scottish/Welsh/N Ireland Assembly/Parliament
    *Unitary Authority
    *Parish/Town/Neighbourhood Council
    All bodies, except for the Second Chamber, should be elected by PR for a period of four over a three year cycle, with a pause every fourth year.

    Pie in the sky? Deluded nonsense? Maybe; but remember what JFK said about going to the moon- “We choose…. to do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. Keep the faith!

  • Innocent Bystander 8th Aug '18 - 8:06pm

    As the national anthem of the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Yorkshire could I start the ball rolling with suggesting “On Ilkley Moor Baht’at”?

    Sorry, but won’t Yorkshire need another county to form a region with? Who would agree to that?

  • Peter Hirst is spot on to begin with. Devolution is about the process of getting there and this paper and all former Lib Dem policy offers next to nothing. Yes, there should be a menu of options the public can choose from and which, by a consultative process, should arrive at a solution that satisfies the maximum number of people.

    However, offering this as “a pilot to one region” just smacks more of 2004 in which the rejection by the NE (of a rubbish offer) meant that none of the rest of us ever even got as far as being offered anything. Strange as it may seem, my idea of devolution isn’t that some other part of the country gets to decide what my part of the country doesn’t get either.

  • Peter Martin 9th Aug '18 - 10:23am

    What if we don’t want devolution?

    I’d much rather be governed directly from London than Leeds. There’s much more money in the capital city!

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Aug '18 - 5:56pm

    @Peter Martin
    “I’d much rather be governed directly from London than Leeds. There’s much more money in the capital city!”

    Isn’t this where we came in? The whole problem – the capital city hogging money (and hence development) at the expense of the rest of the country?

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Aug '18 - 11:18am

    “the capital city hogging money ”

    And this proposal makes it worse. Devolved London and the Home Counties will do fine, thank you very much.

    “What? Liverpool’s social services are on the point of collapse? What’s that got to do with us?
    They wanted to be on their own – well they are.
    Are we supposed to tell our London taxpayers that they need to pay another layer of tax to be sent to those who boasted they didn’t need us?”

    That’s a little foretaste of the problem that has always doomed this devolution idea.
    Where the tax is raised and where it is spent. The devolutionists see a pile of money that they can choose to spend on there own. It works for those who don’t need money from another devolved region. For the poorer they need a higher body who tells the rich to hand it over and then you will get the uproar I offer above.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Aug '18 - 11:24am

    Sorry for the oversight = their not there

  • Peter Martin 10th Aug '18 - 12:37pm

    @ Nonconformistradical

    “The whole problem – the capital city hogging money (and hence development) at the expense of the rest of the country?”

    They see it as their money. Just as Germany and Holland see the euros that flow into their countries as their money. That’s the way it always is in any currency union. Money gravitates to money. The role of a central govt is push it back out again to where it is more needed. The EU/eurozone doesn’t have that central Govt. Hence the problems.

    So Innocent Bystander is right. Devolution will make it worse and reduce the democratic accountability of central govt. We can see that now in Wales. If any Welsh people complain to Westminster about the NHS they’ll be told to take up the matter with the devolved Welsh assembly.

  • Lord Heseltine’s report “No stone unturned” is a good starting point for reviving the entrepreneurial energy of the Uk’s major towns and Cities

    With elected Mayors in 7 industrial conurbations we need to build on the existing structure and get control of money to where it is most needed. All of these areas are perfectly capable of taking care of their local needs without relying on subsidies from London if they are given the freedom to raise and retain property taxes locally.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Aug '18 - 6:47pm

    “National Growth Council, ”

    Heseltine always struck me as a windbag (I met him a few times) and this is par for the course.
    He should call it the National Economic Development Council (Neddy to its friends) set up in 1962 with exactly the florid and hubristic aims offered again, word for word, here by Heseltine.

    When will the supposed thinkers hereabouts, reflect on why NEDC (and umpteen similar initiatives) all failed?

    It is the definition of madness to repeat the same actions over and over but expect different results.

  • john littler 18th Aug '18 - 6:48pm

    I recall a recent study that found the most efficient governmental organisation was over around 5 million people. That is equivalent to Scotland, or large regions in England.
    The existing definitions used by Government are:

    Yorkshire & Humberside

    These would average just over 5m each, out could be combined with a single Midlands and with Yorkshire & Humberside into the North West. Or with E.Anglia mainly into S.East.

    It needs to be done to better represent people in uniquely over centralised England, to promote tourism, employment and industry, to tax, borrow and invest and counter massive regional inequality. It could cool down the S.East economy and divert development into the under developed regions.

    The ballot Prescott organised in the N.East was lost because it was a powerless Labour talking shop for placemen.

  • GK Chesterton said of Christianity that it hadn’t been tried and found wanting. It had been found difficult and not tried. That’s about the case for devolution and the Liberal Democrats. Any devolution policy annoys someone, so let’s come up with something that doesn’t annoy anyone much. The internet has loosened regional and local community ties, but they’re still strong and there are so many things that are essentially local decisions, which can be made locally or centrally. The policy of devolution on demand would have created an incoherent mess and resulted in actual centralisation (county to Whitehall) in many cases. So we need, after consultation, to agree a structure for major devolution. Then Richard makes some very good points. I’d add that we might try making the principle not “What can we at the centre devolve?” but “What do people in smaller units, all the way down, think they can handle?”.

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