Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Lib Dems offer councils devolution route
10 March, 2014 | By Mark Smulian
The Liberals want to try to reintroduce regional government for some reason, despite it being a failed experiment under Labour. The danger for Lincolnshire, with a total population of less than 800,000, is that it could end up with regional government by default. The suggestion is that every local authority, would have to achieve a vote of two thirds in favour, but two thirds of what? Also, how would it work if you got a patchwork quilt of councils, where neighbouring authorities voted differently?
General elections average a turnout of over 70%. Local government elections are often lucky to get more than a 30% turnout. The elections for the Police and crime Commisioners, that took place in 2011, averaged a miserable turnout of 15%. Would you be happy to end up back in a regional government arrangement, based on a 15% turnout?
The Liberal Democrats would offer English councils a ‘devolution on demand’ mechanism, the party’s spring conference has decided.
Delegates meeting in York at the weekend voted for the idea, defeating a large minority who preferred a move to devolution throughout England based on the old regional development agency boundaries.
Under the Lib Dem plan, a council or councils comprising at least one million inhabitants would be able to apply for a range of devolved powers similar to those enjoyed by Wales.
Such a change would require a two-thirds majority vote by each local authority involved.
Supporters of the idea argued that this would allow those parts of England that wanted devolution – such Cornwall and major northern conurbations – to go ahead, while areas with little enthusiasm would not have devolution foisted on them.
But opponents argued that assembling the required two-thirds majorities would be difficult, and that even if they could, there would be an untidy patchwork of devolved areas potentially with, for example, a devolved county surrounding a city that was not without devolved status.
Policy working group chair Dinti Batstone said devolution on demand would work better than uniform regional government, citing voters’ rejection of this in the north-east referendum in 2004.
“England does not want a Prescott-style top-down devolution approach,” she said.
Calling for restoration of the old region as a tier of government, Leeds party member Mick Taylor said: “This resolution calls for devolution to a mishmash of collections of local authorities. Are we going to have the NHS devolved in some places but not others?”
He also complained that the paper did not confer automatic tax raising powers on the devolved areas.
The paper offered immediate devolution to Cornwall because of its cultural identity, and further powers to London building on its already semi-devolved status.
It also called for the use of the single transferable vote system for all English local elections, as used in Scotland.
As an interim measure the party would devolve more powers to city deal and growth deal areas.
Answering questions from party members at an earlier session, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg made clear his support for decentralising power further in England.
He said: “City deals have been a really important innovation. I want that approach extended to across the whole country to other cities, to urban and rural areas.”