With the Scots offered further devolution in the hope of averting a yes vote in the independence referendum, some English regions say they want more powers to tax and spend.
The devolution drive in England is not beginning from scratch: it has already started. About 60 per cent of local government funding comes from central government and councils across England want to raise more of their own money and spend it their own way.
The desire for greater devolution straddles local authorities across England, but there are parts of the country where thinking is at a more advanced stage.
The Local Government Association (LGA) wants any new powers handed to Scotland in the event of a no vote on 18 September, to be given to every local area in England and Wales.
“The appetite for devolution does not stop at the border and the rest of the UK will not be content to settle for the status quo,” it says.
On Monday, the RSA City Growth Commission published a report arguing for more powers to be given to some of the UK’s leading metropolitan areas, including Bristol, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear and the West Midlands.
It is not independence, it is devolution of power and responsibility. John Pollard, Cornwall Council
It warns that the economy is not reaching its potential because cities are “stifled” by centralisation.
Commission Chairman Jim O’Neill, the renowned economist, writes: “What happens in the likes of Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and all of the other 15 metros we defined in our first paper will be more important for UK economic growth than what happens in the rest of Scotland combined.”
The report says the default mode of “Whitehall knows best” is acting as a barrier to economic progress, which could be bolstered by devolving political and financial powers to cties outside the capital.
The Core Cities programme has also been established, representing half of the country’s economy and around half of is population. It wants to see property tax revenue devolved, arguing that England is one of the most centralised states in the world.
In recent years, councils have been coming together to form combined authorities. The first was Greater Manchester, made up of 10 local authorities in the region.
With a population of 2.7 million and an economy worth £50.9bn, it does not lack clout, and says it wants to close the £4.7bn a year gap between what is spent on public services in the region and what is raised in tax.
The North East Combined Authority (NECA) has also been formed, including seven councils serving County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
The cat is out of the bag. I cannot see the current set-up surviving. Simon Henig, North East Combined Authority
With a population of 2 million and presiding over an economy worth £30bn, it too is pushing for greater freedom from Westminster.
Staring over the border at a Scotland that may become independent and at the very least is destined to win more powers from Westminster, councils in the north east are aware they face a competitiveness challenge, particularly if a post-independence Scottish government carried out its pledge to cut corporation tax.
What is happening in the north east is significant, given that in 2004, voters rejected proposals for regional government in a referendum, despite a push from Tony Blair’s Labour government.
Now a new party, the North East Party, has been formed to champion devolution, with Scotland a key driver.
Simon Henig, the Labour leader of Durham County Council and chairman of the NECA, told Channel 4 News transport was a particular bugbear, with spending in this area “tiny compared with London”, exemplified by a single-lane A1 in some areas.
He believes that with the Scottish referendum, Westminster will have to listen to calls for more powers for the regions. “The cat is out of the bag. I cannot see the current set-up surviving.”
It is not just the big cities that are pushing for more powers. Cornwall, whose Celtic people received “minority rights” status in April, has a population of 547,000. With a small economy worth £7bn and salaries way below the UK and EU average, it would like to raise more of the money it spends.
John Pollard, the independent leader of Cornwall Council, told Channel 4 News: “The government is doing deals with cities, giving them more powers and negotiating on the share of tax.
“Cornwall is a distinct region and we feel we should be entitled to the same freedom to manage our own affairs. It is not independence, it is devolution of power and responsibility.”