Theresa May must give local governments power to help abandoned Brexiteer communities, report says

Theresa May must rethink devolution to stop post-Brexit Britons feeling even more abandoned by the Government, report finds

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Theresa May must give local governments more power to improve the lot of millions of people in the UK, according to a report, which says that Brexit happened partly because many believed the central govenment had abandoned them. 

The report by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies called for devolution policies that go beyond Osborne's limited deal-making plans, supplying local areas with real investment to change people's fortunes.

"There is little doubt that the Brexit vote was prompted in part by a sense that people felt abandoned by central government," the report said.

"The message from the voters is not simply that the UK parliament must reclaim power from Brussels, but also that we must strive to create a more inclusive state within our country, which genuinely enables people to exercise control within their own communities."

Dr Craig Berry, deputy director of SPERI, said the referendum result should set alarm bells ringing for politicians in Whitehall.

"The referendum result is a wake-up call to urgently reconsider the UK’s governance structures at all levels and we need to establish a central bedrock of decentralisation. Bold new ideas to push the parameters of devolution deals are needed and we want this report to be taken up by mayors and combined authorities, new Ministers and the public," Berry said.

They call for:

1. Employment policies to be set by local authorities 

That means abolishing the national Work Programme in favour of policy geared towards people.

This should include partnerships with local businesses, proper training in skills useful to the local community and providing alternatives for those who do not fit one model of training and employment.

2. Housing crisis solutions at a local level

Local government needs the power to kill off right-to-buy if it wants to, or to use the proceeds from selling off public property to build replacement homes.

The Government need to lift the cap on how much local councils can spending on housing, which was put in place to stop councils from contributing to the UK public debt. This would allow councils to borrow money and build more social housing, addressing shortages in the area. 

3. Land and property powers for authorities

If local authorities had power over all public land in their jurisdiction, housing could be build when and where it is needed, rather than the land being privately hoarded.

4. Better integrated health care

Manchester has already been given control of its £6 billion healthcare budget, but that has not addressed the £2 billion shortfall to properly meet healthcare needs in the city.

Instead, austerity policies should be stopped and healthcare given proper funding. Devolution should mean that local authorities can redirect health services towards the poorest and most in need, as well as getting local businesses involved in providing services.

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Wind turbines rotate at a wind farm near the village of Rugsted, north of Kolding in Denmark on 13 December, 2015 (JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

5. Climate change to be tackled from the bottom up

The UN estimates that globally up to 90 per cent of climate change adaptation measures are undertaken by local government. Theresa May could facilitate this by allowing local authorities to invest in low carbon schemes, creating new jobs. She could let local government keep receipts from environmental taxes to fund this.

6. Local control over transport

Renationalisation of the railways would create greater accountability over transport management in the regions, improving services for local communities. 

7. More beneficial relationships with big employers

Hospitals and airports that employ lots of people locally should look at buying services and goods in the local area. For example, hospitals should use local laundry and food services so that the money goes back into the economy.

8. Local banks

Central government has in recent years introduced several initiatives to increase access to finance for small and medium sized companies, including the British Business Bank, Funding for Lending and the National Loan Guarantee Scheme.

All have failed.

But a system of community banks with a mandate to support local businesses over profits could help build a better environment for businesses to flourish and help regenerate local areas from the bottom up.

9. Stronger local ties with universities

Brexit is going to have a big impact on university funding, as many UK institutions rely on EU funding for research and on international students to boost numbers.

Central government should take this opportunity to give local governments authority over tuition fees and research funding, currently looked after at a national level. The creation of local innovation councils, with university members as stakeholders, could encourage businesses to local areas.

10. A new mechanism for distributing National Lottery funding

Instead of the undemocratic national system, funding should be placed by regionally-based boards, who could lobby the Big Lottery body for extra funding and make sure deprived areas get their fair share.

11. Government to breathe new life into democracy

Bregret, the phenomenon of Leave voters who regret their decision, showed that many people feel their voice does not count. Local governments should be given the power to change voting systems, introduce online or weekend voting and amend registration rules to improve engagement and voter turnout.

A full copy of the report is available to read online.

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