Burnham says ‘the UK must embrace fundamental constitutional change to survive’

THE MAYOR of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has called for the UK Governments to work with devolved administrations to give towns, cities and regions across the UK more power to control their own destinies, building a healthier politics which could end the divisions of recent times – and help keep the UK together.   

In a major speech at the ‘These Islands’ event in Newcastle, Burnham will outline three substantial changes that would overhaul the UK’s constitutional settlement.

English equivalent to the Barnett Formula

The Mayor will contend that there must be an introduction of an English equivalent to the Barnett Formula.

Currently, the Barnett Formula ensures that extra public spending in England is matched by additional funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  At the same time, London has often received a disproportionate amount of investment, compared to other regions of England, leaving places outside of the capital short-changed.

An English equivalent to the Barnett Formula would guarantee that investment is made in places outside of London as a consequence of any major investment in the capital.

The Barnett Formula also currently delivers funding to the devolved nations in the form of a flexible block grant that can be invested in locally decided priorities, over the long term.  An English version of the formula that delivers the same kind of flexible funding for places like Greater Manchester would ‘end the tyranny of the Whitehall bidding culture where pots of funding are set at a national level and everyone else wastes time and resources bidding and competing.’

Andy will argue that this approach leads to more effective government at the local level.  He will also point out that Greater Manchester is already using long-term devolved funding, like the Transforming Cities Fund, to invest in the Bee Network, a plan to build the UK’s largest joined-up cycling and walking network.

Deeper devolution to empower places

At an event which will be dominated by discussions on the future of the United Kingdom, Andy will set out that, in a devolved setting, ‘the place’ is the starting point and this is very much a unifying force. Whereas in Parliament, the political party is the starting point and this divisive approach has led us to our dysfunctional political system. 

‘At a national level, we often see that party comes first, whether that’s in Whitehall or Holyrood’ the Mayor will say. ‘What we’ve found in Greater Manchester is that place trumps party and we work better together. City, town and neighbourhood is a better foundation to work from.  Devolution to place is unifying and creates a healthier politics, and would result in a happier and politically healthier UK as a consequence.’

The Mayor will also argue that cities like Aberdeen and Dundee could be offered similar powers to those of Greater Manchester, where local leaders have control over their own version of national back to work programmes. The Mayor will set out the success of Greater Manchester’s own ‘Working Well’ back to work programme which has proved to be more successful than its national equivalent.

A more federal form of government across the UK

The Mayor will also make the case for a reformed form of city-regional government across the United Kingdom, wresting power from Whitehall and placing it in the hands of local decision-makers who can tailor solutions fit for their people.

Andy will state that ‘to survive, the union must embrace a more federal form of government’ and that a more federal structure like those practised in many European countries would lead to greater representation of the nations and city-regions, with the approach ‘hard-wired’ into the structures of the UK government. This would mean nations and city-regions being represented on key government committees where key decisions are made and policies formed.

Speaking at the ‘These Islands’ Conference, the Mayor is expected to say: “We have had 20 years where there has been a different deal on offer for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland –compared to the rest of the UK, and where London has had preferential treatment, and that cannot continue. The hoarding of power at a national level is deeply unhealthy and the UK must embrace a more federal form of government, much deeper devolution to all parts of the UK and an English version of the Barnett Formula.

“If power is held centrally the consequence is deeper divisions along party political lines, or worse nationalism. Power placed beyond central governments gives it to the people on a regional, city or even town level, and helps create a sense of pride in place. Pride in where you live or work can act as a unifier in these divided, uncertain times and crucially, it is the best way to ensure that the United Kingdom survives as one country."

Article Published: 20/02/2020 17:06 PM