Thomas Bridge 01 December 2014

Leaders of 119 councils demand devolution and end to austerity

The leaders of 119 councils in England have united to demand an end to austerity and greater power to match Scottish devolution commitments.

In an open letter to the Government published in the Observer, a body including 65 Labour, 30 Conservative and 10 Liberal Democrat leaders brand it ‘vital’ that stronger powers and greater shares of tax and spending are extended beyond Westminster.

With the Smith Commission last week setting out a wave of new powers for Scotland over funding and tax, local government leaders in England warned their communities were looking ‘north of the border with envy’ and would ‘expect nothing less’ than to see the same controls extended across the UK.

‘There is compelling evidence that taking decisions closer to the people affected achieves better results and saves money. It is vital that the Autumn Statement sets out a new settlement for England,’ the letter reads.

Town hall leaders also warned that any further budget cuts in addition to the 40% fall witnessed since 2010 would have a ‘detrimental impact on people’s quality of life’ and risk bringing to an end ‘vital services’.

The letter states libraries, leisure centres and road maintenance continue to ‘buckle under the strain’ of spending reductions and the cost of caring for the elderly population.

Leaders wrote: ‘Funding for services provided by councils has borne the brunt of austerity while demand continues to rise. When the chancellor delivers his autumn statement this Wednesday, “more of the same” cannot be an option.’

Failure to deal with falling budgets would ‘jeopardise other services’ and ‘pass costs on to the NHS, which will have to pick up the pieces if we cannot protect adult social care or provide the services that keep people healthy’ – according to council leaders.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have made commitments to devolve more power to English cities, with chancellor George Osborne’s deal for Greater Manchester among a raft of measures expected to support creation of a ‘northern powerhouse’.

Hilary Benn MP, Labour’s shadow communities secretary, said: ‘Devolution isn’t just for Scotland. There is an unstoppable tide now flowing right across England in favour of people having more power locally.

‘If we want to get the economy moving in all parts of the country, then we need to give local communities more power to shape their own future,’ he added.

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