Devolving power is often a good idea. I think it is best done by devolving more power to individuals, families, charities and companies to make their own decisions. It is a good idea to leave them enough of their own money to spend so more can be self reliant. I regard lower taxes, greater prosperity, and more jobs as policies which empower people and devolve power from government of all levels. Often the best way to implement true devolution is to abolish governing quangoes and layers of government. Conservative abolition of regional government in England was just such an excellent move. In successive votes people in various parts of England had made clear their hostility to extra government at regional level.
Many in politics think devolution of power is about shuffling power down from higher authorities to lower or more local authorities, but still keeping it with government. Quite often this policy ends up taking more power away from people and business, and giving more power to government in total. It can lead to higher tax rates, more public spending, larger bureaucracies, more elected officials, more laws, more regulations and more public projects restricting the individual. It is all too easy for a new regional or local government to wish to tax spend and regulate by more than the national government sheds when power passes. Often indeed no power does pass, but local and regional is granted new and additional powers to tax and regulate people on top of existing government demands and decisions.
So what are we to make of this government’s devolution proposals? They have promised us English votes for English issues, which would be a welcome shift in who makes decisions. This does not mean more laws and spending as these decisions are already being made by the Union Parliament. They are encouraging clusters of local authorities to form new more powerful devolved local government, sometimes with elected Mayors. We will need to see if these locally driven schemes pass my true devolution test. Do they reduce central power by enough to ensure people do not end up more highly taxed and regulated? There will be substantial differentiation of these schemes depending on local wishes.
Some object to the development of more of a postcode lottery in our local government arrangements, as different parts of England want different answers. Surely postcode lottery is proof that local decision making has a more important place? If all local areas wanted the same structure and the same policies what would be the point of local decision making? Labour argues a contradictory position. They say they want more local devolution than the government (or indeed than their last government) offers, yet they also say they want a one size fits all solution! That would need to be imposed from above, the very opposite of true devolution.