Local government leaders unite to call for post-Brexit devolution to the regions
Leaders of local government associations in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland want constitutional talks with government on a new settlement
Brexit - Image credit: Press Association
Ignoring local identity in favour of a post-Brexit national identity is unsustainable, say local government leaders, as they unite to call for further devolution to regions.
In a joint statement, leaders from COSLA and the Local Government Associations of England, Wales and Northern Ireland say Brexit has exposed a sense that some people feel “distanced from decision making and disconnected from the political process”.
The UK’s departure from the EU has prompted “fundamental questions” about where additional powers should sit when they are transferred from Brussels, the four associations said, as they called for further devolution to local communities via councils.
The local government groups warn against any new constitutional settlement after the UK leaves the EU being decided only by Westminster and the devolved administrations in Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff Bay.
They are calling for constitutional talks with government to ensure that three key principles underpin any new settlement.
The council organisations want the principle of subsidiarity to be established, ensuring that power is transferred to the level of government closest to the people.
They also want the legal position of local government to be secured, with defined set of powers and responsibilities which set out what local government should support at the local level.
The third aim is for greater fiscal autonomy for local government, with more responsibility for funding and fewer legislative constraints.
Councils also need a full guarantee in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement that they will receive their full share of EU funding by 2020 to prevent flagship infrastructure projects from stalling, the say.
And the leaders want to discuss with government the possibility of designing a successor funding scheme, in partnership with local government, higher education and business.
The joint statement, issued by COSLA president Councillor David O’Neill, Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association in England, Councillor Phil Bale, leader of European Affairs for the Welsh Local Government Association and Alderman Arnold Hatch, vice-president of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, says: “The EU referendum gave a clear signal that views on politics, growth and prospects differ widely across the UK.
“Recasting the position of local government and broadening the scope of decision making across the UK is the only way to meet the different needs of our different communities.
“It also exposed a sense, amongst some, of feeling distanced from decision making and disconnected from the political process and has sparked a debate about the UK and our constitutional settlement.
“Councils have a deep understanding of the frustrations, aspirations and possibilities within our communities.
“With our country increasingly defined in ‘local’ rather than ‘national’ terms, a new settlement which ignores the re-awaking of local identity in the UK in favour of a post-Brexit national identity will be unsustainable.
“Local government across the UK wants to ensure any new constitutional settlement is guided by the principle that decisions should be taken at the level closest to the citizen.”
There have already been some new regional initiatives in recent years.
City deals have offered regions including Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh extra funding to develop the economy and infrastructure in the city and surrounding area.
And a bill setting out a special deal for Scotland’s islands is expected to come before parliament during the next year.
Additionally in England, but not in Scotland, devolution deals allow regional authorities to gain wider powers over areas such as transport, health, strategic planning and business support.
The Scottish Local Government Partnership, which represents Aberdeen, Glasgow, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire councils, has recently called for similar deals for Scottish regions.
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