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Devolve maximum power to local communities, say MPs

The government should help areas devolve as much power as possible to local communities, where future deals deliver more for local leaders because of their ambitions and ability rather than less, constrained by appetite and enthusiasm at the centre.

That is one of the recommendations of a new report from a cross-party group of MPs following an inquiry into Levelling Up White Paper published in February.

‘The appetite for new devolution deals is very clear, and we know from our evidence that where they are right, they can be transformative, said Andrew Lewer MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Devolution.

‘The government must, however, listen more to local communities about what they want and what works for them. It is clear that for levelling up to truly succeed it must be locally led and draw on the deep well of skills and experience in our existing local government structures. Through that strong local leadership and a clear view of where we are going, we can significantly improve outcomes across the board from areas that have previously felt left behind.’

An inquiry panel set up by the APPG has led to the development of a series recommendations which, according to the group, ‘look beyond party political considerations and offer a set of overarching principles which, if adopted by government, will ensure each devolution deal is focused on delivering the positive outcomes expected by stakeholders and the community it will serve, whilst remaining agile enough to reflect the unique aspects of the area in question.’

The recommendations include expanding devolution to cover areas such as public health, skills, further education, careers, policing, and business rates – some of which are already included in some existing devolution deals.

Another recommendation, which may be welcomed by council leaders in the North East, is that the government should review the requirement to have a directly elected mayor to achieve the highest levels of devolution.

The government should also, it says, reform the process for local areas to access central government funding, aligning the allocation of public money with local outcomes to allow local authorities to optimise systems and achieve their priorities. Future consideration should also be given to localised revenue-raising powers as part of future devolution proposals, in a move towards greater local fiscal autonomy.

The government should align the rollout of integrated care systems and health devolution in future local government devolution deals, establishing a clear and tangible target for narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy between the highest and lowest performing areas, and identify a clear role for local and combined authorities in meeting this target.

Ministers should ensure that future devolution deals place public health at the centre, recognising the multiple factors that decide health outcomes and providing adequate funding both to public health provision and to address all factors that lead to health inequalities and low healthy life expectancy.

Finally, the APPG recommends that the government should commit to supporting organisations in the delivery of the effective transfer of knowledge and expertise between areas that have already successfully negotiated a devolution deal and those yet to embark on the process. This should build on the experiences of trailblazer regions to support a wholesale reform to the culture across Whitehall.