This week has seen the second reading of the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The Bill introduces extensive measures such as Statutory requirements regarding the levelling-up ‘missions’, for example eradicating child illiteracy and closing gaps in life expectancy and living standards; new ‘combined county authorities’ (CCAs) to act as recipients of powers and funding under devolution deals within England – the biggest shift of power from Whitehall in modern times; changes to compulsory purchase to support regeneration, for example, local communities to get extra powers to tackle boarded up shops and empty homes; and requirements for local authorities to produce environmental outcomes reports.
Speaking in the House of Commons debate, John said, “This is a significant piece of legislation and one that I fully support. Levelling up to my mind, is two fold. On the one hand improving lives and on the other closing the gap between prosperous and less so areas in the country. Levelling up is easy to talk about but far more challenging to achieve. I believe there are five key components that will make levelling up the success it should be – education and skills at all levels, infrastructure, the environment and in particular housing and planning, leadership and devolution and private sector investment. It is private sector wealth creators that will really make a difference and it is vital that we encourage and incentivise their investment, as the private sector is the game changer.”
Concentrating on two aspects of the bill, John went on to welcome the creation of development companies stating that these could bring great opportunities for local government to be innovative and ambitious in the regeneration of their areas, and stated that for him, the most important part of the bill was about leadership and devolution.
“This is a great opportunity for areas to take back control from Westminster and truly transform their areas. At the moment we are very centralised with 95% of taxes going in to the centre and key decisions being made at Whitehall. Carlisle is a really good example of that. Our city has and continues to see significant investment but final decisions are made in Whitehall. If we get it right we can bring fresh new local leadership with devolved authority which should have fiscal powers to accompany it.
I would urge Government to go one step further and use reserve powers to impose devolution on areas where there may be unnecessary opposition in certain quarters but broader support more generally. That is the only way we will truly transform our cities.”