Peter Aldous backs large-scale devolution of powers to Suffolk

14th October 2015

Peter Aldous backs the Government’s Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill which will establish large-scale devolution to combined local authorities devolving powers over housing, transport, planning and policing. He calls on the Government to ensure that counties are fully involved in the process and rejects the necessity of an elected mayor as part of the deal.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I speak not only in my role as an MP representing a constituency in a shire county, but as chairman of the all-party group for counties. My interest is to ensure that county areas do not miss out and are able to make the most of the significant opportunities presented by the devolution agenda the Government are rightly pursuing.
 
The previous Government presided over a seismic shift away from the top-down approach that “the man from Whitehall knows best”. This change in strategy was correct. Local enterprise partnerships and city deals have been a great success. The new Anglia local enterprise partnership, which covers Suffolk and Norfolk, is a good example of that. The Bill puts in place the legal framework across the country that will make it simpler and easier to devolve more powers to the regions. Areas can then come forward with their own bespoke proposals.
 
Counties are the largest contributor to the national economy. For devolution to realise its full potential, it is important that they are fully involved and able to participate. Half of the English population, and an overwhelming majority of businesses, live and work in county areas. Analysis by the County Councils Network shows that counties are the main drivers of growth outside London, contributing 41% of gross value added to the country. Counties account for 43% of national employment, with more than 50% in the key sectors of manufacturing, motor trades and construction.
 
There is an urgent need for further devolution, as there are systemic weaknesses in many local economies that need to be addressed. In counties these include too many low-paid jobs, poor infrastructure and often geographical remoteness. Up until now, only one devolution deal has included counties. There is a criticism that the process has been too metropolitan in focus. The devolution deals that have taken place have focused largely on northern cities. I can understand why that is the case, as significant funds already go there and such areas as Greater Manchester have been working in a joined-up way that the Government are rightly now encouraging. It is important that deals should be available to all and it is wrong to assume that economic growth potential in the city regions is greater than in the counties. The Cornwall deal shows that devolution should not be confined to urban areas, and that an elected Mayor is not a necessary precursor to success in securing a deal.
 
Counties are stepping up to the plate. In the most recent round of devolution deals, the majority of bids submitted by the 4 September deadline involved county areas. In England, 22 of the 34 bids submitted involved counties. Counties, districts and unitary authorities are working tirelessly, often across complicated county structures, to build vigorous relationships and put in place rigorous governance arrangements, and are proposing strategies that will improve their economies and public services. Suffolk has come forward with an ambitious proposal that brings together most parts of the public sector. It should be noted that the population of Suffolk is 730,000, compared with 536,000 in Cornwall. Thus, I hope that its proposal will receive favourable consideration.
 
If counties are not fully involved in the devolution process, there is a risk of a complex, fragmented and opaque local government and public services map emerging across the country. It is important not to insist on metro mayors as a prerequisite of devolution deals. They are not appropriate at the current time for large swathes of the country, and there is a risk of disfranchising the majority of England’s population. Counties have shown initiative, drive and leadership in creating devolution deal footprints that ensure that the public service map is clear and accountable and makes sense across the whole country. I urge the Government to support them by offering transformative devolution deals to county areas.
 
This Bill, together with the comprehensive spending review, provides the framework and the opportunity to drive forward devolution. It is vital that this tide of decentralisation reaches all four corners of the country. It has arrived in Cornwall in the west. It now needs to come to the east and to Suffolk and my Waveney constituency—the most easterly place in Britain.
 
6.5 pm

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

 

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