Headlines: February 10th, 2003

The next decade will see the biggest ever shift of power from Whitehall and Westminster to the regions and local communities, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.He used a speech at the opening of new facilities at Wolverhampton University to set out his vision for what he called “new localism” which would see Britain moving away from centuries of being weakened by centralisation to become a country strengthened by local centres of initiative, energy and dynamism.

Universities, Mr. Brown said, could play a central role in creating this new Britain through teaching, technology transfer and new services to business and the development of jobs, wealth and the quality of life regionally and nationally.

“Let me forecast that the next decade will see the biggest ever shift of power from Whitehall and Westminster to regions, localities and communities — moving Britain from the “old Whitehall knows best” culture to a Britain of not one but many centres of initiative and decision-making power,” he said.

There had already been more devolution to English regions in the last few years than in the preceding one hundred years and this regional policy, backed by the Regional Development Agencies, was based  on a genuine devolution of power in economic policymaking from the centre, he said. “With the further devolution just announced in the provision of housing – and greater regional involvement in transport as our long term aim – this major decentralisation is transforming relationships between the centre and localities,” the Chancellor added.

Going into detail he said that soon 90 per cent of the 7 billion pounds a year learning and skills budget, half of the Small Business Services budget and the vast majority of housing capital investment would be devolved to the freedom and flexibility of local decision-making.

“Freedom and flexibility matter just as much in local government. And in return for reform and results, and as an incentive to all the rest, the best performing localities will soon have even more freedoms and flexibilities,” he said. This would include the removal of both revenue and capital ring fencing, the withdrawal of reserve powers over capping, a reduction in the plans required by government and a three-year holiday from inspection.

“In other words, government enabling and empowering rather than directing and controlling,” he said.

Charities, voluntary and community groups were also benefiting from greater freedoms, he said and added, “So instead of people looking to Whitehall for solutions in locality after locality, more and more people are themselves taking more control of the decisions that most affect them – a devolution of power, an empowerment of local centres of initiative that is now ready to spread across regions, local government and communities,large and small.”