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Council chiefs condemned over lack of consultation on devolution

Published 03/02/2016

Greater Manchester became the first area to agree to a return of powers in 2014
Greater Manchester became the first area to agree to a return of powers in 2014

Local council chiefs have been criticised by MPs for failing to consult residents before signing up to deals to take back powers from Whitehall.

The Commons Communities and Local Government Committee said there had been a "very significant" lack of public engagement over a series of "devolution deals" struck between the Government and various English cities and regions.

In November 2014, Greater Manchester became the first area to agree to a return of powers, but when the committee held a question and answer session with residents in the city it found many were not impressed.

"The vast majority of contributions, often made in angry tones, arose from the perceived lack of efforts by the combined authority to engage the public about the deal relating to their local area," the committee said.

"For devolution to take root and fulfil its aims, it needs to involve and engage the people it is designed to benefit. There has been a consistent very significant lack of public consultation, engagement and communication at all stages of the deal-making process."

The committee acknowledged the "rapid pace" at which ministers drove through the first wave of devolution deals meant there had been little time for consultation and it said the Government's approach had "lacked rigour".

"There are no clear, measurable objectives for devolution, the timetable is rushed and efforts are not being made to inject openness or transparency into the deal negotiations," it said.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "We share the committee's ambitions for even greater transfer of powers from Westminster to local areas and local people, and welcome their support for our devolution revolution.

"Ministers have been repeatedly clear: this is a bottom-up process and there is no one-size fits all approach. Every deal is bespoke and provides arrangements that are relevant to each local area.

"Going further than the deals already made in places like Manchester, Cornwall and the Tees Valley, we've listened to local leaders and announced in the Autumn Statement that local government will retain 100% of business rates revenue by 2020 - giving them the means to become self-sufficient."

Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter said: "While it is right that devolution deals are not imposed, but negotiated and secured by local places, we recognise the need for greater public engagement throughout the deal-making process and are working with councils to support them in this."

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