Putting the right powers in the right places

Councillor Brigid Jones, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, responds to the report from the Brown Commission on the future of the United Kingdom.

The constitution of the United Kingdom is a complicated matter, unlike many countries, our constitution is not written down in a single document but has developed over the centuries to give us the political system that we have today.

I was privileged to play a part in a commission led by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown that considered the future of the UK. Specifically, the Commission considered how we can challenge the economic failings of the past decade, and longer-lasting geographic inequalities, by changing the way that our constitution works, including giving local government more powers.

The Commission’s report, UK’s Future, has put forward a wide-ranging set of proposals, including on reforming the House of Lords, and raising standards in public life. One key area focuses on how power could be pushed away from Whitehall and Westminster towards local and regional governments.

This would give local authorities, such as Birmingham, a far greater say on issues such as skills, employment support, transport, infrastructure, and even our response to the climate emergency.

As well as shifting power to local authorities, the Commission also proposed a change in how local government is funded, moving towards block grants to allow Councils to allocate resources flexibly, putting money where it is most needed. This would mean that Councils move from annual budgets to three-year budgets, giving us greater certainty on the funding available to us, helping us to better plan our finances on a longer-term scale. 

Many of the Commission’s proposals echo the calls that we have made at Birmingham City Council, with our Levelling Up Strategy calling on the Government to devolve powers and change the way that local authorities are funded in order to help us to improve the lives and life chances of the people of Birmingham.

I have long argued that the right powers should be put in the right places, and the Commission’s report makes it clear that we can help to redistribute wealth across the country, and drive the growth that we want to see, by empowering local government.

Here in Birmingham, we have the ideas to help our communities, to reduce the gap in life expectancy, and to push down unemployment, if the Commission’s recommendations were followed, then we would have the funding and the powers to put the ideas into practice.

This blog was posted on 13 December 2022.

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