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John Prescott: It’s time to have a Devolution Revolution

October 27, 2014

The sentiment is to be applauded and it’s good to see John Prescott get a new lease of life in his aim of regional devolution. From The Mirror on Saturday. Full article piece below:

 

 

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott says regions in the north should have the same powers as Scotland

Ten years have passed since the North East turned down the chance to have its own elected regional assembly.

But as Scotland has shown, people are now more passionate about power and resources being taken out of the hands of the Westminster elite and moved closer to home.

The Scots may have rejected full independence but they only did so because they were offered more control of their affairs.

And as Westminster prepares to honour that “vow” of more devolution north of the border, it’s vital we get the same south of it.

The Tories believe the answer is City Regions like Greater Manchester and Liverpool, with more money and resources to deliver growth and stronger local government.

But for growth to spread across a region, you shouldn’t concentrate it in big cities that compete against each other for jobs and investment.

Councils need to work together not against each other, especially when it comes to strategic planning and improving transport.

My regional assemblies, with appointed local councillors, and Regional ­Development Agencies did a great job of developing these ­strategies, which I called the Northern Way. My vision was to see a corridor of towns and cities across the M62 with better transport links that shared growth and prosperity more evenly.

George Osborne scrapped the Northern Way, realised he’d made a mistake and tried to bring the concept back as the “Northern Powerhouse”. But he thinks they can be powered by City Regions like Manchester and Liverpool. That might help cities but what about towns and rural areas?

We need to think bigger and fairer. The North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber have 15 million people – three times as many as Scotland – with an economy worth more than £200billion a year.

If you travel by train the 126 miles from Liverpool to Hull it would take two and a half hours.

The same distance from London to Newark can take just 75 minutes.

So let’s have a body that sees all three areas working together as a super region – the North – on economic development, housing and transport. The other super regions would be the Midlands, the South West and London with the South East.

David Cameron’s answer is to have English laws for English MPs. But that would not only create second class members, it would also be the first step to an English Parliament, which would be even more Westminster focused.

The problem of the West Lothian Question – ­Scottish MPs voting on English matters – could be solved by giving regions control over the same areas of policy as Wales and ­Scotland. Gordon Brown, whose powerful campaign saved the Union, made an equally powerful speech this week saying just that. He said giving regions the same powers as Scotland would create a fairer, more equal Union.

It makes sense to let the regions keep more of their share of the tax take, have more control over their land for house-building, distribute benefits and have a greater say over transport – even rail franchises.

So the timetable and legislation for Scottish devolution must include a commitment to reform and empower the English regions too.

I believe that if the people of the North East were given the kind of powers and resources Scotland is getting, they would grab them with both hands.

So let’s start a debate about how and where we want our regional money spent. By central Government in a ­Westminster bubble, with money given to preferred areas to buy votes? Or closer to home so we can all have a greater say and share in the growth and ­prosperity?

It’s time to have a ­Devolution ­Revolution.

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