There has been support across the political parties for amendments to the Localism Bill which were developed by the Centre for Cities and which will allow for the transfer or delegation of the functions of Ministers, Departments and NDPBs to local authorities either in structures such as combined authorities or to individual councils. In the debate in the House of Lords there were claims, which are far from grandiose, that these amendments represent the biggest step towards genuine localism in the Bill.
It feels churlish to carp a little when these are big steps forward for more genuine devolution. Yet in responding to what had been a very positive debate, the Minister, Baroness Hanham, slipped in some statements which may give supporters of the amendments some cause for concern. Here are two:
‘I need to stress to the House that this new power, to which we are all signed up, does not mean that we intend to unpick the arrangements for the national delivery of certain economic development functions as set out in publications such as the Local Growth White Paper and skills strategy. Those would not be able to be devolved’
She did not explain further and clearly there will be some major practical questions whch arise in unpicking current arrangements. However, but one can well anticipate that this includes the whole gamut of Work Programme provisions and probably much of the skills agenda both of which would be seen as significant elements of a well rounded economic development strategy. It would be helpful if Ministers were pressed to explain further what this apparent pre-emptive strike takes off the table.
Secondly, there was the following reference:
'Any such proposals that were to come forward would need the clear support of local enterprise partnerships’
Given that the amendments were in part designed to provide ballast for emerging LEPs, at one level this makes sense. One would also expect that it would be unlikely that authorities would be putting forward proposals with which any LEP strongly disagreed. But at another level it does seem rather odd that bodies that will have no standing in statute and which have complicated and less than transparent accountability will apparently trump the views of democratically elected local authorities.