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Devolution: Shared Services

Volume 602: debated on Monday 9 November 2015

9. What assessment he has made of the likely effect of devolving powers to, and encouraging co-operation between, local authorities on local economies. (902056)

Co-operation can power economic growth, and devolution is acting as a catalyst for co-operation right across the country. We are seeing local authorities and local authority leadership coming forward with proposals for new combined authorities, working together to identify the powers that they want for their area. A long-lasting sensible devolution settlement can enable economic growth on the scale that we want to see, and deliver for the communities we are all here to represent.

Does the Minister agree that we need strong, visible and courageous leadership at that level so that those authorities can provide the strategic plan necessary and harness all the aspects of economic plans and economic activity? That is the only way we will make the policy work. I hope we will have such leadership in Gloucestershire.

My hon. Friend is a passionate advocate for Gloucestershire and on this issue he is absolutely right. We need that sharp accountability. We need to ensure that local people can hold to account those who make the decisions that they are empowered to take under devolution. We need to ensure that somebody is in place who can drive forward the growth of the economy in areas that secure devolution deals, because that is how we will make this policy a success and ensure that it lasts for the long term.

Through no fault of our own, Hull runs the risk of being excluded from the back-room devolution deals that are being done for Yorkshire at the moment. If that is the case, will the Minister undertake to work with Hull and the Humber to make sure that we really can be part of the northern powerhouse that he wants to see in Yorkshire?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. Many areas across the country recognise what devolution can do and want to be part of it. Discussions continue in Yorkshire and Humber. We want to find deals that work for local areas. They have to be reached by agreement, have to be bottom-up and bespoke, and have to match the economic geographies that exist. When we get those deals—we will continue to work with areas that want them to deliver them—I am sure we can ensure that they last for the long term and drive real difference in the improvements we want to see.

In the east midlands we currently have a joint bid by Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and a separate bid by Leicester and Leicestershire. Does my hon. Friend agree that it might make more sense to have a combined bid of the three counties, previously known as the golden triangle?

My hon. Friend puts forward an interesting and important idea. However, I am not going to tell any area what its devolution proposal geography should look like. It is for areas to come together and identify the opportunities and sensible economic areas that exist. I am sure that those who are engaged in the discussions with the Department will have heard his comments, and I am sure that we can ultimately find a solution that will work for everyone.

One of the great drivers of local economies is education and skills. The Labour party’s London challenge transformed education in the capital. Why will the Secretary of State not show some leadership and push for his new set of combined authorities to gain responsibility for commissioning new schools and raising standards? Why the obsessive centralism in relation to education?

I remember standing in this place in the previous Parliament advocating free schools in my constituency and coming up against strong resistance from those on the Opposition Benches, including the hon. Gentleman. This is the ultimate freedom for communities to control the future of their education. We want to ensure that areas get the right devolution packages to deliver for their economies. We will continue to work with all areas on the asks that they have, but this is a bottom-up process that comes from the local leaderships, and we want to work with them to deliver this and ensure that what we deliver is fit to last for the long term.