12 Sep 2014

English council leaders go to work Reservoir Dogs style

The sandstone grandeur of Sheffield City Hall says it all. There’s Queen Victoria (strangely her stonework alone seems to have been cleaned) and multitudes of bas-reliefs talking of power, money and clout: Steel City exporting to the world.

But Victoria’s long gone. The steel’s pretty much gone and with it power and the political clout.

You could say much the same for Manchester  and cotton. For Leeds and wool. Newcastle and shipbuilding. But more has been lost than jobs.

The latent sense of disempowerment and disconnect has long been felt, less long articulated.

Then Scotland happened. First devolution – and lots of claims from financial houses about all the problems it might cause. Instead it worked rather well and politics was reinvigorated and genuinely repositioned.

A lesson there for all to read as the English establishment  gets into full swing about the world ending if Scots decide to run their own lives.

They’ve read it too in the city halls of Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol and even Truro too.

So it is that today’s Institute for Public Policy Research report talks of a 10 year plan to move 40 key powers from Whitehall and central government to the city halls. No longer will 13 Westminster departments’ fiat run on the banks of the Mersey, Don and Tyne – or so they hope.

Certainly the disconnect is out there. The north-south divide, the sense that your immediate interests are neither met nor even cared about by central London control. Falling turn-outs at elections, Ukip’s move from crackpot terrain to mainstream – it is all part of it.

Whatever happens in Scotland, more devolution will happen because of the English state’s last-minute panic and there are signs that the English regions want a piece of the action.

Today the council leaders of the biggest were up in London – going to work Reservoir Dogs style – Mr Manchester, Mr Birmingham, Mr Newcastle et al, and they want to go to work.

Signs are, Westminster is with them too. Persuading the streets back home that it is not just more red tape and taxes might be more difficult – but after seeing Scotland anything might now be possible.

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