How can politicians encourage this country’s economy to grow more evenly? Do you build a nice big railway line? Or try – and largely fail – to devolve greater power to cities using directly-elected city mayors? Today Labour sets out its answer in Lord Adonis’ growth review. Ed Miliband has already said that he will accept the central recommendation, which is to allow city and country regions to create combined authorities (like the Greater Manchester combined authority) which will gain control over all, rather than half, the revenue from business rates.
George Osborne was making similar noises recently about greater powers for regional groups headed by elected mayors. There is, of course, the question of whether local electorates will back these mayors – they largely didn’t when asked whether they wanted directly-elected city mayors – but both main parties are still keen on localism and still see devolving power as a key way of solving the problem of Planet London vs the rest of the UK. And of course if you are promising Scottish people still more powers if they do not back independence in September, then it is only right that other parts of the UK are included in that discussion about devolution.
Now that devolution is in vogue, the main parties are engaged in a kind of localism arms race, in which they promise that they’ll be the party that really trusts people, and that really gives power to the individual. We’ve already seen that emerging on planning. Now it’s spreading.