01The parties’ specific proposals for cities and devolution
It is encouraging to see cities and devolution feature in most of the party manifestos. All of the major parties have committed to honouring the terms of the Smith Agreement for devolution to Scotland in full, as well as providing further freedoms for Wales and Northern Ireland. But the proposals and policies in relation to cities specifically were more varied across the manifestos.
The Conservatives would continue with the City Deal based approach of the last Government, with promises made to devolve more powers to large cities, specifically to those who choose to introduce an elected metro mayor. Their manifesto also re-states commitments made in the last Parliament including: legislating for the Manchester devolution deal, implementing local business rate retention pilots, devolving more skills and planning powers to London and delivering more bespoke Growth Deals with local councils.
Their manifesto includes support for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, with £13 billion funding for transport in the North, including for an HS3 line between Manchester and Leeds, and road investments. Commitments to invest in R&D institutions in advanced materials, medicine and computing are repeated from the Budget. The manifesto groups together certain policies to invest in the South West, Midlands and East of England through transport investment and support for specific local industries.
In addition to granting more powers to Scotland and Wales, the Conservatives would give English MPs a veto on England-only matters in Parliament, and require English consent over how spending is distributed and taxes set within England – an English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) approach.
The Labour manifesto takes a more universal approach to urban policy. The party has pledged to introduce an English Devolution Act and provide £30 billion of devolved funding to cities and county regions, as well as setting longer-term multi-year budgets for local authorities.
They would allow city and county regions to retain 100 per cent of additional business rates growth, create an English Regional Cabinet Committee and local Public Accounts Committees, and give Wales the same powers as Scotland under the Smith Commission Agreement.
The manifesto also contains promises to support high-tech knowledge clusters based around universities, especially outside of the South East.
The Liberal Democrats propose a system of Devolution on Demand, which would continue with the city deals and growth deals process of gradual devolution, but would shift the emphasis more towards a presumption in favour of transferring powers wherever cities can demonstrate a local appetite and capacity to deliver. The Liberal Democrat manifesto also talks about establishing a Government process to deliver greater devolution of financial responsibility to English Local Authorities, and any new devolved bodies in England.
Place-specific proposals include a commitment to delivering Transport for the North to promote growth, innovation and prosperity across northern England. Their manifesto also singles out the South West, London and East-West connections as areas for transport infrastructure investment.
The Liberal Democrats would also give Wales more power over Network Rail funding, as well as additional powers for Scotland and Wales over the Crown Estate, borrowing for investment and benefits for older people, carers and disabled people.
The SNP would like to see City Deals made available to more cities in Scotland (Glasgow has already agreed a Deal) and the creation of a £300 million Scottish Cities Fund, as well as similar funds for Northern and Welsh cities. Above and beyond ensuring that the Smith Agreement is honoured in full in the next Government, the SNP will seek more financial powers for Scotland, as well as greater freedoms over employment policy and welfare.
The Greens call for a Constitutional Convention to set out devolution plans for counties or city-regions, as well as to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
UKIP would give seaside towns additional planning powers and reform the Barnett formula, resulting in lower levels of grant to Scotland.
Plaid Cymru support the full transfer of powers recommended by the Commission on Devolution in Wales, and want Wales to be given the same levels of funding (on a per capita basis) and taxation powers as Scotland.
DUP want increased budget and capital investment, and support the proposals to devolve Corporation Tax to Northern Ireland. The party also wants a permanent seat in the Cabinet for a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.