For too long Westminster has dominated the nation’s politics. It decides on funding, services and has too much influence over how, when and where they are delivered.
This has led to an inevitable disconnect between local communities and the centre of power. It’s frustrating for your local MP as much as it is for you. To get a transport scheme for our local area approved, it has to make the long journey down to Whitehall to be approved or rejected. The Work Programme is designed by Iain Duncan Smith and then forced on communities around the country -; part of the reason it has been such a miserable failure.
Ed Miliband has recently laid out his plans to change all that. We know that David Cameron and Eric Pickles have made the biggest cuts to local authorities in areas of the greatest deprivation and need. He now believes that by giving a big city or two some money and some new powers he can reverse a record of failure in growth outside of London and persuade people that he suddenly cares about the north. He boasts about his economic success but the average household is down £1600 a year since the start of the Coalition.
The last time Labour was in government it gave the people of Scotland, Wales and London the chance to take more control over their own futures, and I believe that the task for the next Labour government is to finish the job. Next May we will be fighting an election to win power in order to return money and responsibility to communities that come together to say, “we think we can do this better locally than you can from Whitehall.”
That’s why Ed recently announced that we want local communities to make more decisions about transport investment -; things like new trams and trolleybuses, roads and cycle paths, and smart ticketing like London’s Oystercard.
Skills are vital to our future prosperity, so who better to decide what the needs are in an area but local people and their representatives, working with industry, businesses, schools, and colleges? Labour will give local authorities the budgets for skills and education for people aged 19 and over to focus investment where it is required.
When it comes to helping the Government’s failed Work Programme, we will ask councils to organise its successor because they know their local economy and needs better than a pen-pusher in Whitehall.
Or take housing. We all know that we need to build homes for our children and grandchildren but far too often communities feel alienated by the planning process in which developers seem to be in control. So instead of just relying on them, the new deal we will offer is this: as communities take responsibility for making sure that the homes they need are built, in return we will give them the power to make sure that the type of homes they want are built in the places they decide.
In total we will take £30 billion out of Whitehall and give it to local areas – north and south. You could call all this English powers for English places: villages, towns and cities that join together in city and county regions across the length and breadth of the country enjoying the advantages of co-operation.
We can get through our current difficulties and build a fairer country, but everyone will have to do their bit. We actually need a government in Westminster that will freeze energy prices, fight for a living wage, help young people into work with education and apprenticeships and save the NHS as we integrate it with social care to look after our growing elderly population. That’s the Labour offer to England.