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Let our mayors raise taxes: Lord Heseltine calls for more powers for the regions in devolution report

By Peter Madeley | Politics | Published:

Lord Heseltine has called for England's metro mayors to be given more powers – including the ability to raise billions of pounds by bumping up taxes and charges.

Lord Heseltine, one of the pioneers of devolution, wants to see more powers for the regions

The Tory peer urged the Government to give regional leaders such as West Midlands Mayor Andy Street control of housing, schools, skills and employment programmes.

And allowing mayors to levy local taxes to raise the cash needed to empower the country's regions is considered vital to his revolutionary plans.

England's metro mayors were first elected in 2017, and many of them believe their powers are too limited to enable them to compete with London.

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Lord Heseltine, who first called for devolution more than three decades ago, has put forward a series of proposals in the Empowering English Cities report, which was commissioned to assess the role of mayors.

They include:

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  • Handing regions responsibility for affordable housing, failing schools, the skills budget and employment schemes
  • The launch of a new multi-billion pound composite fund
  • Allowing mayors to raise local taxes such as vehicle excise duty and airport passenger duty, as well as charges such as entry to museums
  • Merging the roles of mayor and police and crime commissioner
  • Whitehall reforms to create a new Department for the English regions with its own Secretary of State
  • A new annual report giving each English city a 'score' based on prosperity
  • Each mayors to set out their vision in a five-year plan
  • Establishing a mayors committee to meet with the Prime Minister twice a year

Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine drew up proposals in 2012 in his No Stone Unturned report, which led to the creation of the West Midlands Combined Authority.

However, the arch Remainer warned that progress had stalled, mainly due to ministers being “paralysed by indecision” as the “shadow of Brexit hangs like the darkest storm cloud over our body politic”.

Balance of power

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Lord Heseltine said many of the current mayors were working “with one arm tied behind their backs” due to the imbalance of power.

“London is too powerful and takes too many of the everyday decisions,” he wrote in his latest report.

“If you live 200 miles away from the people who decide your future, you become frustrated, lack hope and ultimately become apathetic.

“Too few of the men and women who devise the policies that shape your early years, your adolescence, your education, your life chances, your whole life, have never experienced your life.”

Mr Street, who was interviewed for the report, welcomed its findings. He said: “With the inertia created by Brexit, key policy decisions such as the future direction of devolution are at risk of falling by the wayside and I hope this document, and its bold vision, encourages not only similar ambitious thought but real action.”

He added: “Against the backdrop of the leadership election, here is an idea whose time has come.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street

“As our potential PMs look around for fertile areas of growth, they must conclude that our city regions offer huge opportunities, if allowed to unleash their potential.

“Devolution is an idea that has been shown enough light to take root, but now needs wholesale embracing to flourish.”

The CBI has also welcomed the report. West Midlands director, Richard Butler, said: “We've come a long way since the emergence of metro mayors and this report is just the latest step. The government now must publish a devolution framework outlining what powers can be devolved, how and when.

"But with Westminster fully occupied by Brexit, those of us at the sharp end see the pressing challenges facing communities in The Midlands daily. It is time our communities took charge of our own destiny.

"Re-balancing the economy so it works for everyone must be at the heart of our ambition. This should ensure no place is left behind and enable every part of the UK to fire on all cylinders.”

The report warned that many of the UK’s major cities have "underperformed economically for decades”, pointing out that economic output in Greater London was double that of the West Midlands.

Lord Heseltine said that reducing the economic gap would make the UK as a whole wealthier.

Mr Street currently has powers over some areas of transport, planning and economic development.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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