While Brexiters talk of taking back control from Brussels, the real shift we need is from Westminster to mayors, first ministers and council leaders
2016 has seen some extraordinary events take place. A new prime minister and government. Donald Trump becoming America’s president-elect. And UKIP electing a leader for the second time in three months. But will any of those events be more significant than Brexit?
When Gordon Brown spoke to the Fabians Society last month, he referred to the EU referendum being a, ‘revolt of the regions against the elite’ and called for a federal UK. Five months on from the EU referendum, it is clear that many people saw the vote as a chance to vent their frustration and as an opportunity to ‘take back control’.
In the EU referendum the out campaign said Brexit would allow people to, ‘take back control’. But if all that means is Westminster rather than Brussels making decisions we will have failed.
It is impossible to have a purely national approach to Brexit. Why shouldn’t EU powers be devolved to regions rather than to Westminster? In the coming weeks and months, I want to see regions and devolved administrations invited to play a central role in the exit negotiations to devolve power closer to people. And when the government proposes its Great Repeal Bill, it should be accompanied by a detailed plan to devolve power out of Westminster to mayors, first ministers and council leaders across the country.
We are one of the most centralised states in the Western world. London government controls just seven per cent of tax raised in our city compared with 50 per cent in New York and 70 per cent in Tokyo.
I want to see more powers for London in five areas: housing, skills, finance, health and care and employment.
London needs to build 50,000 homes a year just to keep pace with demand. The capital has 50,000 households living in temporary accommodation in urgent need of a permanent home. London has enough people out of work to fill a city the size of Leeds. But a quarter of our job vacancies in London remain unfilled due to a skills shortage. London’s skills gap and our housing shortage won’t be solved from Westminster. It’s time for more powers to be devolved to local government to ensure we can deliver more homes, more jobs and skills training and integrated health and social care; and to be able protect the economy of London so that it can in turn protect the national economy.
While no one wants an arcane debate on constitutional reform, I believe Londoners want their town halls to have more power. That would make London boroughs equal partners with the government, mayor and London businesses to give London a fighting chance of economic growth and prosperity for all in the aftermath of Brexit.
The leaders of local government are not in the business of managing decline. Since 2010 we have faced big funding cuts which put unpalatable choices on our desks every day. Over the last six years we have set out a positive vision for the people we represent. The result has been higher school standards, lower overall crime and cleaner streets.
It’s time to take control of health and care, housing, skills, finance and employment to give our residents the first class public services they deserve.