Conservatives to Devolve Powers to England’s Major Cities

England’s biggest cities will get more control over their own affairs, provided they let their residents elect a mayor.

Manchester Town Hall, England, November 1, 2013
Manchester Town Hall, England, November 1, 2013 (Raver Mikey)

Britain’s newly-elected Conservative Party government will devolve authority over health care, housing and transportation to England’s major cities, provided they elect a mayor, Chancellor George Osborne said on Thursday.

“I will not impose this model on anyone,” Osborne said in Manchester where he unveiled a Cities Devolution bill. “But nor will I settle for less.”

Last year, the ten council areas in Greater Manchester — most of which are controlled by Labour — agreed to call a mayoral election, described by Osborne at the time as “a massive moment for the north of England.”

His government also aims to rebalance Britain’s economy, shifting activity away from London and the South East toward a “Northern Powerhouse” comprising the cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield.

Osborne sees Greater Manchester as the “blueprint” for a new model of governance. He said in Manchester that running everything from London “made people feel remote from the decisions that affect their lives.”

The shift of power toward metropolitan areas of England would happen at a time when more power is devolved to Scotland as well.

After Scottish voters rejected independence in a referendum last year, Britain’s major parties agreed to give the region some control over taxes as well as housing credits and winter fuel payments. The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh already controls education and health policy.

In return, the Conservatives want what they call “English votes for English laws.” The party, which won an overall majority of seats in Parliament last week, argues that it is unfair lawmakers in Westminster have little control over Scotland while the delegation from Scotland gets a say in how the rest of the United Kingdom is governed. Giving England’s major cities more control over their affairs would go some way toward rectifying this imbalance.

Osborne has offered Manchester £1 billion in additional spending powers as well as joint control over some £6 billion in health and social care spending.

Councils in Greater Manchester currently control around £5 billion in public spending.

The other major cities in Northern England, including Birmingham, have so far resisted electing mayors. Osborne’s offer is meant to change their minds.

There are currently seventeen directly-elected mayors across England. The most powerful are Joe Anderson in Liverpool and Boris Johnson in London.

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