Can Gove deliver on Devo?

Updated: Jun 2

The big announcement for us ‘Devolutionistas’ at DevoConnect was, of course, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in the Queen's Speech. The devolution framework promises to deliver devo-deals by 2030 to all areas that want one, but the devil will be in the detail as to whether devolution will both be deepened and widened. Without Covid dominating the policy agenda, the Government now has no excuse for not making progress on its three-year-old levelling up promise

The Queen's Speech did not announce any new initiatives to solve the short-term cost-of-living crisis nor anything to react to the Ukraine War. The Government will hope that yet another year’s programme is not derailed and that current inflation is tamed by the time the Conservatives go to the polls.

Click here to read Louis O'Halloran's blog in full

At DevoConnect, we've been finding out what political leaders from the 9 areas invited to bid for a new 'devo deal' think about Levelling Up. Next up, we hear from Toby Perkins MP for Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

What inspired you to get into politics?

We needed a Labour government! In the run up to the 97 election I joined the party and got involved in local campaigns and stood for local council a few years later. Politics quickly evolved from being a hobby into something I just needed to do. It was a passion of mine to represent Chesterfield as well as to represent the Labour Party. I thought that a Labour government could make a real difference to people's lives, and I wanted to assist in making that happen.

In terms of English devolution - do you think the Government means by ‘meaningful devolution’?

They are very clear on the model that they want to follow. They've never quite had the courage to abolish second tier authorities, but seem to be wanting unitary government to sort of happen by stealth. I think they see an attraction, for example, in places like Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. If we were to go for a mayor there would be a greater chance of a Conservative being elected in a predominantly metropolitan Labour area.

What further powers do you think are necessary to level up and reduce inter and intra-regional disparities?

It's about powers and about money. Look at the scale of differential expenditure and the extent to which more deprived communities have seen bigger cuts than more affluent communities and you will see that 'devo deals' need proper budgets and the promise of greater fiscal power to truly level up.

If we take it on face value that what they mean by levelling up is making poorer areas more like wealthier areas, then they are not even heading in that direction. In the last 12 years, we’ve seen the gap between the wealthier areas and poorer areas grow. The Government is masking the impact of the overall spending decisions that they've made which are taking money out of poorer communities. For example, the benefit cuts that they've made has reduced the spending power of people in deprived communities and that means they're less likely to able to shop locally have big impacts on their local economies.

How will levelling up measure up and deliver greater social mobility?

I suspect ‘levelling up’ is a phrase which is deliberately vague so you can pin any number of different things on its flagship policy. Historically, the Government is spending less in deprived communities than before. The perception that levelling up will unlock greater social mobility annoys me because I don’t think it will.

If there was one policy change you would like to see – what would it be?

There should be far greater devolution. The two things, I think, that would be transformational are firstly, powers over transport and control over budgets and secondly, skills. As the Shadow Skills Minister, I feel that the Skills Bill pays no attention to local authorities outside of Metro Mayoral areas. I think devolving greater powers over transport and skills could reduce regional disparities.

As an MP for one of the 9 levelling up areas - what do you think the impact and the legacy of the lovely note white paper will be?

Limited! Any investment is better than no investment of course, but I don't believe that this Government is genuinely committed to devolution or reducing the gaps, which will be evident when we come to review its legacy.

I think Levelling Up is ultimately undermined by the broader funding decisions that have been taken. I think that the reality of the last 12 years is that the gap between more deprived and more affluent communities continues to grow, and that's because of government decisions rather than in spite of them.

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