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To really level up, regions need more autonomy | Letters

Your editorial (31 December) refers to the imminent publication of the white paper on levelling up. It discusses the promotion of the mayoral model beyond city regions, and levelling up regions and areas that have been neglected for decades. The problem with this is that the UK does not have regional authorities to do the job.

In their absence who is going to identify the key issues that need to be addressed and respond to them effectively? Who is going to quantify the resources needed and how to spend them? Whose business is it going to be to ensure enduring success?

One of the costs of Brexit has been the loss of EU regional funds. The EU gave these, over the heads of governments, directly to Europe’s regional authorities because otherwise they would just go into national treasuries. Regions need to be able to produce and cost their own plans for levelling up and negotiate these with the government, not the other way round.

Look no further for exemplars of how UK local government needs to be reformed than the successful Scottish regional authorities that existed for 20 years before the advent of the Scottish parliament.
Roger Read
Former secretary general, Metrex, the network of European metropolitan regions and areas

Your editorial omits one key role of national government in relation to devolution – that of creating, as far as possible, a level playing field. For many years, when local authorities had the power to fix rates and to spend the money locally, there was a rate equalisation grant from central government, calculated on the local authority’s level of financial capacity.

Now, with central government controlling tightly so much of what a council can raise and spend, there is very little municipal independence. This has led to cynical cuts in central funding of over 40%, with the blame for cuts in services falling mainly on poverty-stricken local councils.

Devolution will potentially level up a divided country if, and only if, it is accompanied by devolved regional financial powers, with the national government’s sole role being to provide a grant to assist the poorer regions to level up to a national average of financial capacity.
Michael Meadowcroft

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