Councils in England call for devolution from Westminster amid power reforms for Scotland

Pressure is on Chancellor George Osborne to make reforms for the Autumn Statement on Wednesday

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More than 100 council leaders in England are together demanding government in Westminster to allow them more powers to run their own affairs.

In a letter to The Observer, leaders of 119 councils - including 65 of Labour, 40 of the Conservatives and 10 of the Liberal Democrats - warn that voters in England will not accept greater devolution to Scotland unless similar redistribution of power is granted south of the border.

They called on Chancellor George Osborne to set out a "new settlement for England", in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday, which would devolve power from Westminster and fairly share out tax and spending across the UK.

They wrote: "Earlier this week, the Smith commission (on Scottish devolution) set out a better deal for Scotland, granting more control over funding and recognising the importance of devolving power down beyond Holyrood. It's England's turn now."

"The people we represent, who look north of the border with envy at the greater control Scots are to get ... will expect nothing less," they added.

Members of the Scottish parliament will be responsible for raising 50 per cent of funds needed for public services while Holyrood is given more freedom over tax, welfare and transport policies.

Some local authorities across England are already forming "super-councils" to make joint decisions on issues such as housing, regeneration and transport.

Ten councils in Manchester joined together in 2011 to form the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to take control of a £1bn budget - and local authorities in Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle are following suit while Midlands and Nottinghamshire town halls are negotiating agreements.

 

London mayor Boris Johnson also backed a "fiscal devolution to the great cities" of England in September in the light of increased powers passed to Holyrood despite a 55.25 per cent "no" vote prevailing in Scotland's referendum for independence.

Mr Osborne's 40 per cent council budget cuts over the current parliament are also opposed by the leaders who signed the letter.

They said: "Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people's quality of life and will lead to vital services being scaled back or lost."

Conservative local government minister Kris Hopkins warned that councils could not be exempt from the need to make savings to plug financial gaps that the party believes were left by Labour.

He said: "Local government accounts for a quarter of all public spending and must play its part in paying off the deficit left by the last administration."

"All councils should be making sensible savings and keeping council tax down by merging back office services or doing more joint working," he added.

Signatories of the letter include leaders of several Tory-run local authorities in the south, including Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Oxfordshire county council, which covers David Cameron’s constituency of Witney.

For Labour, shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said devolution within England was now inevitable.

"Devolution isn't just for Scotland. There is an unstoppable tide now flowing right across England in favour of people having more power locally," he said.

"If we want to get the economy moving in all parts of the country, then we need to give local communities more power to shape their own future."

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