Cities and Local Government Devolution [Lords] Bill

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): As a former leader of a council and a member of a combined authority and local enterprise partnership, I welcome the thrust of the Bill. There is no question about that. I said in a previous debate that the train is going out of the station—the cat is out of the bag, to mix metaphors. Whichever description we use, this is the reality.

I do not deny that the governance structure in local regions is important, but whatever that structure is we must move the debate on. Local government has changed

over centuries. In the 19th century, it changed to reflect the industrial revolution. It changed at the beginning of the last century and at the end to reflect the patterns of population, demography, business and so on. It has changed over time. London changed in the early ’60s, we changed again in the 1970s and it is now time to change once more. People might have concerns, but that is life. It has to move on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made a point about having too many councillors, but I am pretty agnostic on that. The United States have significantly more councillors proportionately than we do, and they get on okay, and the same applies to the French. It is part of the heart of a community that there might be lots of councillors. I am not arguing for that, but I do not think that it is a reason for not going ahead with changes.

I support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) about the principle. There will be changes to local government and devolution in the coming years, and we might as well recognise that while we are in this transition and get on board with the constitutional convention. That does not stop things happening now, but we really need to get on with it, and I ask the Government to consider that seriously.

I also support what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) said. He referred to some of the specifics. It seems remarkable that a mayor would not have the borrowing powers he described. I hope that is just a mistake—a lacuna in the legislation—that will be put right. It is important that the detail is picked up.

There is a danger that this debate will get a bit too esoteric. Do I think that devolution will be good for my city region of Liverpool? Yes, it will. Why? This is not unique to us, but we have a thriving visitor economy. For many years, that has been our direction of travel and Liverpool is now the fourth most popular city in England for national and international visitors. That could link into the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw about hotel taxes and the ability, if that many people are coming into the city from abroad, to use that revenue if we so wish. I am not saying that we should, but we should have that flexibility if we want it. The visitors are coming to my city, not to anybody else’s, and that is important.

At the moment, the visitor economy brings in £3.8 billion and 40,000 jobs, and it is a major growth sector. Do I think that the city region would manage that, grow it and progress it better? Yes, I do. There is no question about that. If we wait for Whitehall to help us, we will be waiting until the cows come home, and I mean no disrespect to Whitehall.

Mr Graham Allen: My hon. Friend reminds me that Thomas Jefferson once said that were people to wait for Washington to tell them when to reap and when to sow, they would soon go hungry. The same probably applies if we wait for Whitehall to figure out how to do some of these things. Will my hon. Friend also comment on local government borrowing and social investment bonds? In America, there is a multi-trillion dollar local government capital market. People borrow, they return, they use their liquidity and they stash money overnight. That would be a fantastic source of revenue that is currently denied to local government.


Peter Dowd: My hon. Friend is spot on in in identifying some of the mechanisms that can be used to help local economies. For example, low carbon investment accounts for 1,400 businesses in our area and is a major growth sector. Among the organisations that invest in our area is Copenhagen city council. Why cannot we as a city council or a local authority invest in our area in that way? Devolution will eventually enable us to do that. The low carbon industry is one of our priorities and brings a huge amount of money into the local economy. We want to grow that area, and we could do that best ourselves.

There are other reasons why my city region will benefit from devolution. We want more manufacturing. The Government have said that they want to move into manufacturing because that helps with exports. In our area advanced manufacturing is worth £3.2 billion and accounts for 50,000 jobs and 3,000 businesses. Again, we need to grow that as part of our strategy, which may well fit in with the Government’s agenda. It may not, but that is a matter for us. We are working closely with businesses through the LEP and outside the LEP to continue to develop that sector.

The creative and digital sector is important. Merseyside had a long history of creativity. I am not saying that other places do not have that, but for decades we have had the benefit of the creativity that we have brought on, and we want to continue to bring it on. Why not? That will be best done from within Merseyside. The sector is worth £878 million, and accounts for 3,500 businesses and almost 19,000 jobs. We are best placed to grow that. The life sciences and health sector is huge and worth £1.7 billion, with the potential to grow even more.

I gave those examples of our priorities—the visitor economy, advanced manufacturing and so on—because many of those have been pushed from within our area. We want the structure, the capability, and the devolution of powers and resources to enable us to push them further.

This may be a radical proposal and it may be slightly party political. The Conservatives have made major cuts in our local government budget in Merseyside and other areas, and that will continue. If that happens, so be it, although I do not agree with it. But I would rather have devolved budgets and resources even at a lesser amount if we can determine how to use them, because our priorities may not be the priorities of the Government. One of the good things that the Government did was to lift much of the ring-fencing which had become endemic over the past 10 or 15 years.

If, with devolution, comes the resource—appropriately equitable, possibly over a transition period—all the better. Colleagues in my neck of the woods and I welcome devolution. We want to be able to push the agenda on for our area and we think we are best placed to do that. Importantly, we would be accountable for that at a local level, and that is the key.



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