Last week I sat in on a meeting between the Secretary of State for Local Government and representatives from the local authorities of Warrington, Cheshire West & Chester and Cheshire East.
It was an ordinary sort of meeting – speeches were made, questions asked and minutes taken. But in future years this could turn out to be of huge significance to Warrington and to Cheshire.
The meeting was the first step towards a major transfer of powers from Whitehall to Warrington. What Greg Clark, the Secretary of State, was offering was not just devolution but a revolution in how our local area is governed.
In simple terms the deal is this: Warrington and the two halves of Cheshire will elect a single mayor. That mayor will then be responsible for the region’s housing, transport, strategic Planning and health priorities. With the budget for those areas devolved from Whitehall to be spent according to local needs.
This does NOT mean that any of the three local authorities themselves will have powers taken away from them. They will still have the same powers and responsibilities to decide local planning matters, education priorities and maintain roads within their local authority areas. The new mayor will only receive powers that have been handed down from Whitehall.
I spent some 30 years in business constantly trying to push back against a mindset of “this is important – therefore we have to do it in London”. Sadly, the same mindset is still ingrained within our civil service – although there is a big drive by the Conservative Government to change this.
For me it should be a basic principle that local decisions should be taken locally by those who are directly accountable to local people.
Manchester is due to get those new freedoms next year and a similar deal for Liverpool is in the pipeline. Warrington and Cheshire will get left behind if all the important decisions affecting us continue to be made from SW1.
I think that this is a really exciting deal for Warrington and I’m hoping that our local politicians rise to this exciting opportunity for Warrington and Cheshire.