Conservatives to Devolve Powers to England’s Major Cities

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

The Royal Liver Building in Liverpool, England, February 18, 2006
The Royal Liver Building in Liverpool, England, February 18, 2006 (Peter Morgan)

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

“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.”

Northern Powerhouse

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” comprised of Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield.

Devolution

Osborne sees Greater Manchester as the blueprint for a new model of governance.

He said in Manchester that running everything from London makes people “feel remote from the decisions that affect their lives.”

The shift of power would come 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 more control over taxes as well as housing credits and winter fuel payments.

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh already controls education and health policy.

Imbalance

In return, the Conservatives want what they call “English votes for English laws.”

The party, which won a majority of the seats in Parliament last week, argues it is unfair lawmakers in Westminster have little control over Scottish affairs while the delegation from Scotland gets a say in how the rest of the United Kingdom is governed.

Giving England’s major cities more power would go some way to rectifying this imbalance.

Public spending

Osborne has offered Manchester £1 billion in additional spending 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.

Elected mayors

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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