No.10 promises to loosen control over England's regions

“For too long a Westminster government has tightly gripped control," Angela Rayner tells metro mayors
Starmer speaks to regional mayors at yesterday's meeting. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

The prime minister and deputy PM have promised to loosen Whitehall’s “tight grip” over England’s regions in their first meeting with metro mayors. 

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner hosted a roundtable yesterday with all of England’s regional mayors to “begin the process of shifting power out of Westminster”, No.10 and the newly renamed Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said in a statement.

Mayors were invited to discuss potential changes to how local and national government work together and “agree early actions needed to scale up devolution and empower regions to deliver change for their communities, helping to unlock economic growth and tackle regional inequality”.

Twelve areas of England, including Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, have devolution deals that give them greater power over areas such as transport, adult education, housing and business support. 

Yesterday marked the first of what No.10 has promised will be regular meetings to discuss devolution and the first time all of England’s 12 metro mayors had convened in Downing Street.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who attended the roundtable, said the establishment of regular meetings was a “big change to the way this country is run” and a “very positive” one.

“To have a council of the regions and nations, meeting regularly, just means we can be sure that the voice of Greater Manchester, of the north of England, is heard at the heart of Whitehall on an ongoing basis,” he said.

The relationship "reset" comes after former permanent secretary Philip Rycroft warned last year that Whitehall’s capability on managing devolution had taken “a significant step backwards”.

Rycroft, who led the now-defunct Brexit department, said moving responsibility for managing devolution away from the centre of government and into DLUHC marked a "diminution in the status of devolution", which "matters in a government machine where there are so many competing priorities, and where devolved government and the union more generally are typically viewed as ‘niche’ areas of policy".

Starmer's decision to appoint Rayner as local government secretary at MHCLG alongside her deputy prime minister role, along with the meetings, appears to address these concerns.

Rayner used the meeting to kick off the process of establishing Local Growth Plans across the country. 

The Labour Party put forward Local Growth Plans as a central plank of its manifesto pledge to “transfer power out of Westminster, and into our communities, with landmark devolution legislation to take back control”. It said it would create a statutory requirement for the plans, which will be developed by local leaders alongside universities, colleges, and industry bodies and will identify and put in measures to support sectors with potential for growth.

The manifesto also promised a Labour government would “deepen devolution settlements for existing combined authorities” and “provide greater flexibility with integrated settlements for mayoral combined authorities that can show exemplary management of public money”. 

At the meeting, Rayner asked mayors to identify local specialisms and contribute to work on a national industrial strategy.

In a statement ahead of the meeting, the DPM said the process of resetting ministers’ relationships with local government must begin with “proper, grown up conversations with our regional mayors”.

“For too long a Westminster government has tightly gripped control and held back opportunities and potential for towns, cities and villages across the UK. That’s meant misguided decisions devastating the lives of working people, while our elected local leaders are forced to beg for scraps at the whim of Whitehall,” she said.

“Work will now continue at pace to deliver on manifesto commitments to transfer power out of Whitehall, and into our communities, with upcoming devolution legislation to take back control,” she added.

Starmer said he had made it a priority to meet with metro mayors in his first week as prime minister because “my fundamental belief is that those with skin in the game are the ones who know best what they need”.

“By resetting these crucial relationships and putting more power in the hands of local leaders, I’m determined to make sure they have the support they need to play their part in delivering economic growth in every part of the country,” he said.

East Midlands mayor Claire Ward said it was “significant” that the roundtable had taken place less than a week after the new government was voted into power.

“Both the prime minister and deputy prime minister understand that mayors are uniquely placed to make the best decisions for the places we serve and know that we can lead the drive for growth across the country,” she said.

“I wholeheartedly welcome the prime minister’s commitment to giving our communities more of a say on some of the most important issues,” she added.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen – the only Conservative among the metro mayors – told ITV News the meeting was "a really positive one", adding: "I hope to build on that relationship.”

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