My Lords, the Government are committed to devolving greater spending powers. We have created local enterprise partnerships giving power to local councils and businesses, agreed city deals with 27 cities and invested £7 billion in local areas through growth deals. Devolution deals have been agreed with Manchester and Sheffield and, looking ahead, the Government are open to discussing proposals with any area which would welcome increased powers and greater freedoms to maximise their economic growth.
I thank the Minister for her Answer and very much welcome these developments. However, given that the current arrangements that the Government have made fall short of fiscal devolution, is she aware that an additional £8 million could be added to national income if financial and other powers were devolved? Does she consider that a key priority of the new Government should be to move forward on fiscal devolution?
My Lords, has not one of the problems with our arrangements been that our constitutional changes have been very piecemeal and haphazard? Should not the excellent suggestions of the noble Baroness be considered side by side with proposals for further devolution, fiscal and otherwise, for Scotland and Wales, preferably in a constitutional convention, as has been so wisely proposed by the leader of the Labour Party?
Does my noble friend agree that, before embarking on further devolution in England/to England, it would be a good idea to have a system of fair funding throughout the United Kingdom, and to deal with Barnett and have funding based on need?
My Lords, the Minister talks about empowering northern cities in particular and devolving responsibilities, but is it not the case that the Government have consistently hit areas such as Liverpool and Manchester, some of the most deprived parts of the country, with the largest cuts in funding? What is empowering about taking with one hand and giving back far less with the other?
My Lords, after talking to local government leaders in both Liverpool and Manchester I know they are very pleased with what this Government have given them. If we just look back over the last 30 years we see that it was a Conservative Minister in the form of the then Michael Heseltine who did so much work in Liverpool. It was a Conservative Minister in the form of the then Michael Heseltine who led the regeneration of Hulme, who brought the Metrolink to Manchester and, indeed, who started the regeneration of Manchester after the bomb. I do not accept the noble Lord’s point.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for having drawn a distinction between decentralisation and devolution. Devolution we do not need—for who needs another layer of government, another load of paid politicians and another load of hangers-on, all swinging on the taxpayers’ wallets?
My Lords, during my time spent in both Houses of Parliament campaigning for devolution in Wales, I always thought that devolution for England—especially the north of England, which I dearly love, being my nearest region—was part of the project. Therefore, has not the time come for all us devolutionists within this kingdom to recognise that without the liberation of England, there is no future for the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I thought I detected something in what the Minister said a little earlier. Can she assure the House that she meant it when she said that the Government were working towards the abolition of the Barnett formula and its replacement by one based on need? That is what she said. Did she mean it?
My Lords, in terms of the first devolution deal, which is in Greater Manchester, the arrangements and relationships between the local authorities have been well established for over three decades. In terms of local engagement, the election of a mayor as the person accountable to government will add clarity to it.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has not explained fully her remark about the Barnett formula. The Barnett formula allocates public funds between the countries of the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness seemed to imply that allocation between different areas of this country would be revisited. Also, would she take it from me that those who welcome the decentralisation moves do not number among those who are happy with the Government’s formula for allocating resources? Speaking from the north-west, we need an answer.