Sunday, 30 November 2014

Knowle relocation project: and the longer-term demise of district councils... "Council leaders across England have joined forces to demand the Government gives them more powers to run their own affairs."

The demands for greater devolved powers to the regions are growing - all with a look to the Chancellor's Autumn Statement...

Here is a business view from the South West:

Chancellor’s hands maybe tied next week

by Josephine Bush, tax partner at EY

The Chancellor will deliver his Autumn Statement on December 3, but is not expected to muddy the waters and won’t give much away ahead of next year’s general election. With the UK general election in May 2015, a Scottish election in May 2016 and a possible referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in 2017, this is an uncertain time for businesses across the UK, and no less so in the South West.

Additional uncertainty arises as the Scottish referendum earlier this year triggered a national debate about major constitutional change in other regions of the UK.

The Chancellor now has the opportunity to build on this momentum and try to galvanise growth across the English regions. Change and further devolution of powers will still be forthcoming in the form of concessions from Westminster and greater control for the regions.

But devolution will be an ongoing process and businesses in the South West must have a voice, continuing to engage with Government, local authorities and each other in maximising any benefits these new powers can deliver for the economy and identifying any challenges they create.

Business leaders have urged the Government to focus on energy and infrastructure projects with businesses in the South West hoping for significant investment, which would have a significant impact on the region’s economic potential...

Josephine Bush, tax partner at EY: Chancellor’s hands maybe tied next week | Blog
Autumn Statement 2015: Bring us all some Christmas cheer, please Mr Osborne | Blog

And here are some business views from further afield:

November 30, 2014 5:24 pm

Regional businesses have high hopes for devolution dividend

Leader of the House of Commons William Hague (3L) chairs the first meeting of the Cabinet Committee on devolution at Downing Street on September 24, 2014. puknews©Getty
Ahead of this week’s expected giveaway of powers to the regions by chancellor George Osborne, excitement about devolution is stirring among businesses across the north of England.
Mr Osborne coined the phrase ‘Northern powerhouse’ in June in an attempt to create a magnet for economic growth outside London. Joining Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield together with better transport links – including a possible new £7bn 125mph rail line – would create a conurbation to rival the capital, he said. The government also proposes devolving powers and money to combined authorities, groupings of neighbouring councils that can collaborate, possibly led by a directly-elected mayor.
Business has been quick to respond. Later this month 200 business people will cram into a hotel function room in Huddersfield to debate devolution while hundreds more will follow the event’s live webcast after tickets ran out.
Marlen Roberts, managing director of Insider Media, the regional publisher behind the event, said: “Interest has been huge. The quality of the people wanting to attend the conference shows that the ‘Northern powerhouse’ is starting to resonate with businesses in the boardroom.”
While the north-south high speed rail line, HS2, has divided opinion, the idea of better connecting the north’s big cities to cut down journey times – dubbed HS3 – has met overwhelming approval.
Greg Sills, founder of engineering consultant Scurator, said top of his wishlist was better cross country rail services. Speaking during an arduous four hour midweek car journey from his base in Saltburn, on the coastal edge of Teesside, to see clients in Birmingham, Mr Sills said: “Over the past six months we’ve been doing stuff in the north west and south west and the [rail] service has been poor, absolutely poor.”
He believes that north east England is not getting its share of investment, and that the government’s devolution proposals must address this. “We get cast as the poor relation to other parts. It would be useful to have an injection of cash and powers. You could control your own destiny.”
David Hall, chief executive of YFM, a private equity fund that invests 75 per cent of its money outside the south east, agrees that the current transport system works against northern businesses. From his Wigan home “I can fly to Aberdeen and get there for 9am but I can’t get to Leeds. It must have an impact on the levels of business.”
Scott McCubbin, of Liverpool based marketing agency Uniform, said he focused on doing business in London more than northern cities because of the size of the market and ease of access by train. The creation of a ‘Northern powerhouse’ could allow it to win more work locally, he said.
A survey of 200 businesses by DataCentred, a data centre business in Manchester, found 87 per cent believe that devolving more power to local authorities will increase business growth in the regions. However, 79 per cent favoured high-speed broadband over improved rail links.
On the subject of devolution and giving more power to local authorities, businesses tend to be more sceptical.
John Elliott, founder and chairman of County Durham based manufacturer Ebac, says he has no time for constitutional change. “Absolute tosh; totally irrelevant and a sideshow. It’s really fiddling while Rome is burning.”
“The real issue is we have to get the economy sorted out.”
Nevertheless many business people favour more local rule. Some, such as Tom Bloxham, the founder of Urban Splash, the property developer, and Scott Fletcher, of software company ANS, have been tipped to run for mayor of Manchester in 2017.
Mike Driver, of Convex Capital in Manchester, which advises entrepreneurs on selling their businesses, advocates a Swiss model. “The most prosperous, stable country in Europe is the most decentralised: Switzerland. City states are the most efficient way of working and limiting the damage from errors.”
But he would rather have existing councillors run things than a mayor with concentrated powers.
Mr Sills of Scurator, agrees. “My gut feeling is the people who are running the local authorities have the powers to undertake the role; why do you need a mayor?”
Jonathan Diggines, chief executive of EV, a venture capital firm that invests in small businesses, questions whether council officers have the expertise to run rail franchises and plan large highways. “The big risk is execution risk.”
Charles Crewdson, chairman of Gilbert Gilkes and Gordon, a hydroelectric equipment manufacturer in Kendal, Cumbria, said local control was better than the regional development agencies. “We had dropped off the radar,” he said. While he feared the cities would now get the lion’s share of investment he said rural Cumbria would gain from a ripple effect. “We have got to have a counterbalance to London.”
Regional businesses have high hopes for devolution dividend - FT.com
Meanwhile, councils across the political divide are also calling for more devolution to the regions:

Councils unite in bid to get greater powers

The leaders of 119 councils warn that voters in England will not accept greater devolution to Scotland unless there is a similar redistribution of power south of the border

English council leaders have called on Chancellor George Osborne to give them more powers Photo: Philip Toscano/PA

By Nicola Harley 11:57PM GMT 29 Nov 2014

Council leaders across England have joined forces to demand the Government gives them more powers to run their own affairs.

In a letter to The Observer, the leaders of 119 councils - including 65 controlled by Labour, 40 by the Conservatives and 10 by the Liberal Democrats - warn that voters in England will not accept greater devolution to Scotland unless there is a similar redistribution of power south of the border.

They called on Chancellor George Osborne to use his Autumn Statement on Wednesday to set out a "new settlement for England" which devolves power from Westminster and shares out tax and spending across the UK "on a fair basis".

"Earlier this week, the Smith commission (on Scottish devolution) set out a better deal for Scotland, granting more control over funding and recognising the importance of devolving power down beyond Holyrood. It's England's turn now," they wrote.

"The people we represent, who look north of the border with envy at the greater control Scots are to get ... will expect nothing less." The leaders also warned Mr Osborne that having seen their budgets slashed by 40 per cent over the current parliament, local government could not afford another punishing round of "austerity" cuts.

"Funding for services provided by councils has borne the brunt of austerity, while demand continues to rise. When the Chancellor delivers his Autumn Statement this Wednesday, 'more of the same' cannot be an option," they said. "Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people's quality of life and will lead to vital services being scaled back or lost."

They warned that services such as libraries, road maintenance and leisure facilities are continuing to "buckle" under the pressure of cutbacks amid the rise in the cost of care for the elderly. "Failure to address this will not only jeopardise other services, but will pass costs on to the NHS which will have to pick up the pieces if we cannot protect adult social social care or provide the services that keep people healthy," it added.

Mr Osborne has agreed to give “London style” self-rule to Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, and is expected to announce further details in his Autumn Statement. It is expected that while no extra money will be provided to the regions from central government, they will get far more control over their own affairs, including trains, roads, schools and science as well as potentially housing. Mr Osborne has said he wants to create a northern economic “powerhouse”, including a new high speed rail plan for the north.

Earlier in November Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said the North had been "ignored" for too long, adding: “It is time to give these cities London-style powers. What is good enough for London, is good enough for the similarly great cities of the North. While there isn’t extra money, we can give them much more control over their own budgets and, therefore, over their own decisions and destinies.”

Local government minister Kris Hopkins warned that councils could not be exempt from the continued need to find savings. "Local government accounts for a quarter of all public spending and must play its part in paying off the deficit left by the last administration. Since 2010 this Government has delivered a fair settlement to every part of the country while giving them greater financial independence so they can increase revenue and protect front-line services. All councils should be making sensible savings and keeping council tax down by merging back office services or doing more joint working."

For Labour, shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said devolution within England was now inevitable. "Devolution isn't just for Scotland. There is an unstoppable tide now flowing right across England in favour of people having more power locally," he said. "If we want to get the economy moving in all parts of the country, then we need to give local communities more power to shape their own future."


No comments: