What is devolution and how will Keir Starmer’s Labour change Westminster’s relationships with the UK?

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Louise Thomas


Sir Keir Starmer has kickstarted a “new era of devolution” as he commences his tour of the UK after just four days in office.

The new prime minister and his deputy, Angela Rayner, met on Tuesday with the nation’s 12 regional mayors to discuss “a major programme of devolution”.

Sir Keir spent Sunday in Scotland, where he met SNP first minister John Swinney. On Monday, he met political leaders at Stormont in Northern Ireland and The Senedd in Wales, including the nation’s first ministers, Michelle O’Neill and Vaughan Gething.

Ms Rayner said for too long Westminster had “tightly gripped control” and “held back opportunities for towns, cities and villages across the UK”.

What is devolution?

In England, devolution is the transfer of powers and funding from national to local government. 12 areas of England, including London, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Tees Valley, have devolution deals giving powers over areas such as transport, housing and employment.

Devolution referendums were held in 1997 in Scotland and Wales. On both sides of the Northern Irish/Irish border in 1998, referendums were held on the Good Friday Agreement.

These resulted in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales (now called the Senedd) and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Voters in some large cities in England elect mayors with regional responsibilities. Among them are Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester), Richard Parker (West Midlands), Dan Norris (west of England including Bristol and Bath) and Ben Houchen (Tees Valley).

The UK government in Westminster remains responsible for policies which affect just England, as well as overall policy in several areas such as foreign policy.

What does Labour want to do about devolution?

Mayors gather outside Downing Street before a meeting with Sir Keir Starmer on Tuesday morning (REUTERS)

The new government wants to harness the power of devolution and has wasted no time in showing its seriousness. The meeting at No 10 was the first time all the mayors had gathered in Downing Street.

Before the whistle-stop tour of the UK, Sir Keir said his appearances would signal his ambition to “push power and resource out of Whitehall”.

While Ms Rayner said: “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.

“It’s time to take back control and this new government is focused on setting that potential free, with a full reset of our relationship with local government. All of this starts with proper, grown-up conversations with our regional mayors, to make changes that help them deliver local economic growth with better housing, education and jobs for local people.”

What is the reaction from the devolved areas?

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin takes a selfie with other mayors (Getty)

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said there was “no doubt” that devolution should be expanded to more areas of the UK. Following the meeting with the prime minister, she took a selfie outside the door of No 10 with all the other mayors present including Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, and Lord Houchen.

Asked whether devolution should be expanded across the UK, Ms Brabin told the PA news agency: “I think there’s no doubt about it. The majority of citizens in the north have a mayor and you can see that voice and champion for a region really does bring delivery.”

Tees Valley’s Conservative mayor Ben Houchen is currently the only metro mayor who is not a Labour politician but he said he and Sir Keir both agree on the need to work together, regardless of party politics.

Source: UK Politics -


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