In 2020, Sir Keir Starmer tasked former prime minister Gordon Brown to produce a report on the state of the union and how devolution could be extended across the country with the devolved nations to create a stable UK and share prosperity equally. The report was published earlier this week and included 40 recommendations, ranging from rights, extra devolution powers, intergovernmental working and radical reform of the House of Lords.
The report, called ‘A new Britain: renewing our democracy and rebuilding our economy', is split into several sections, each looking at how power can be devolved to the most local level. There are proposals to extend mayoral authorities and create more combined authorities to make regional decisions on issues such as business support, skills and local need. The CLA has concerns about how this would work for a rural area and questions whether many regions would find themselves “tacked on” to their nearest big city or town, potentially resulting in the needs of the local community being ignored.
Making economic decisions based on the makeup of the region is an admirable decision - problems that affect Cornwall will not be the same issues that affect Northumberland. However, it will require a significant amount of resourcing for already stretched local authorities to deliver. The CLA would work with the Labour Party on this to determine how rural communities would be reflected in the decision-making process, with the potential need for a rural strategy to be developed to ensure there is equity in support.
Apart from further devolution in England, the report also suggests more powers be given to the Senedd and Holyrood to bring them in line with Westminster for decision-making. There is also a suggestion that a greater level of coordination is established between governments on issues that impact the whole of the UK, such as trade deals. Labour hopes this will appeal to wavering nationalist supporters and that enhanced powers remove the need for independence.
The former prime minister also takes aim at the House of Lords, with a recommendation that it is replaced with an Assembly of Nations and Regions, akin to the second chamber in American politics. This would be a fundamental shift in British politics with a move to a fully elected second chamber and an issue many have sought to solve previously before placing it in the “too difficult camp”.
Overall, the paper is well-thought-out and measured. It is a clear shot from the Labour Party that it is serious about winning the next election and wants to display to potential voters living outside of London and the south east that it aims to be the party that delivers prosperity to the four corners of the UK.
My only element of caution would be that these are complicated recommendations, which would take years to develop and resource, but they present a first hint of what the Labour manifesto will look like.