What do West Midlands parliamentary candidates think about decentralising political and economic power?

Over the last few weeks LWM emailed 177 parliamentary candidates across the West Midlands to seek their views on decentralisation and devolution, to deliver greater local political and economic power.

In particular we asked what they would do about:

  • Devolving powers, resources and political representation to more local levels such as local authorities or regional bodies
  • Refocusing Whitehall and Westminster on UK-wide issues rather than micromanaging sub-national issues
  • Ensuring our locally-owned businesses can thrive and maximising how money recirculates in the area
  • Ensuring planning is democratically controlled for the common good
  • Delivering housing markets that work for everyone
  • Keeping public services locally controlled, not outsourced to large and distant organisations.

We received 27 responses.

Party We emailed: We got this many responses % responding
Conservatives 52 1 1.9%
Greens 25 11 44%
Labour 54 7 13%
Libdems 20 2 10%
National Health Action Party 1 0 0%
Respect 2 2 100%
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 2 0 0%
UKIP 21 4 1.9%

NB: We emailed all candidates for whom we had email addresses, via publicly available sources.

Of these 27 responses, 1 (Labour) said they supported all the points in our letter, and gave no further information.

The other 26 gave more detailed responses. These are outlined below.

 

Devolution of powers to local or regional bodies

  Of the 26 responses, 25 expressed support for devolution.

Party Mentioned devolution of powers to local authority level only Mentioned devolution of powers to regional and local  levels Did not specify, but supported devolution generally
Conservative 1 0 0
Greens 3 4 4
Labour 0 5 2
Libdems 1 0 1
Respect 2 0 0
UKIP 2 0 0
  • 2 UKIP candidates and 1 Conservative were expressly against regional devolution.
  • 1 candidate (Labour) mentioned a democratically elected regional tier.
  • Of those who supported devolution, 3 Greens, 1 Labour specifically mentioned the importance of devolving fiscal/revenue raising powers. The rest did not mention this.
  •  1 Conservative and 1 Labour proposed elected mayors.
  • 1 (Green) suggested proportional representation for local government.
  • 1 (Labour) said she supported devolution but that it would be important to overcome the problem that “smaller cities and towns that they will go from being ignored by Westminster to being ignored by the largest city in the region.”
  •  The 1 who did not express support for devolution (UKIP) cited lack of confidence in Birmingham city council, and then talked about the EU-UK relationship.


Refocusing Whitehall on UK-wide issues

10 candidates commented specifically on this issue:

  • 2 made comments that did not specifically relate to our statement: 1 Conservative only commented on the need to reduce red tape and burdens on Whitehall, and 1 UKIP commented on the unfairness of Scottish MPs voting on English issues.
  • 2 Greens and 1 Labour candidate simply supported our statement.
  • 2 Greens said that Whitehall overriding of local powers (eg planning) should be stopped.
  • 1 Labour, 1 Libdem and 1 Respect candidate argued for moving Whitehall or Parliament to the regions in order to rebalance the economy.
  • 1 Respect candidate suggested a more flexible arrangement between councils and Whitehall was needed.

Locally-owned businesses and increasing local money circulation

This section contained a greater diversity of answers, not all of which related specifically to locally owned businesses or money circulation, and with several solutions being put forward by some candidates.

Some responses that didn’t specifically address the issue in question:

  • I Conservative advocated Growth Deals for cities, LEPs and incentivising councils for growth.
  • 2 Greens proposed the living wage to replace the minimum wage.
  • 1 Labour candidate mentioned bringing investment and jobs to the region .
  • 1 UKIP candidate advocated various changes in favour of British not migrant workers.

Of the more directly relevant responses:

5 Greens expressed agreement (some strongly) with this concept without elucidating further.

  • 3 Greens and 1 UKIP advocated tax breaks and similar advantages for SMEs
  • 3 Greens supported local procurement by public bodies.
  • 2 Greens and 1 Libdem proposed local currencies.
  • 1 Green and 1 Libdem proposed local/community finance.
  • 1 Green proposed community energy initiatives and establishment of worker cooperatives.
  • 1 Green proposed approaches based on local business development, community economic empowerment and upskilling.
  • 1 Respect candidate proposed redistribution of growth across regions to help local business.
  • 1 UKIP candidate proposed free parking for high streets.


Ensuring planning is democratically controlled for the common good

 Of those who commented on this issue:

  • 2 Greens expressed agreement (some strongly) with this concept without elucidating further.
  • 1 Conservative advocated continuation of Localism agenda and of traditional planning levels such as towns, shires and boroughs.
  • 1 Green proposed bringing energy production planning decisions back to the local level (e.g. wind).
  • 2 Greens and 2 UKIP candidates advocated greater community involvement and rights in planning.
  • 1 Libdem opposed HS2
  • 1 UKIP candidate proposed greater protection for the green belt and more incentives for brownfield development.

 

Delivering housing markets that work for everyone

Of those who commented on this issue:

  • 2 Greens agreed with our statement without elucidating further.
  • 2 Greens said housing numbers should be based on community and social needs rather than the market.
  • 3 Greens and 1 Respect candidate proposed the building of more social/affordable/council housing; 1 Green proposed increasing local authority borrowing powers to enable this.
  • 2 Greens advocated measures to protect private rental sector tenants, such as rent caps and more secure tenancies.
  • 1 Green expressed opposition to extending Right To Buy.
  • 2 Greens advocated measures to ensure more brownfield housing rather than greenfield.
  • 1 Green proposed the Land Value Tax.
  • 1 Green and 1 Labour candidate proposed stopping top-down targets and devolving housing decisions to a more local level.
  • 1 Labour candidate proposed a mass housingbuilding programme.


Keeping public services locally controlled, not outsourced to large and distant organisations

Of those who commented on this issue:

  • 1 Green agreed with our statement without elucidating further.
  • 1 Conservative proposed continuation of encouraging councils to join up services, community budgeting, joined up social care arrangements etc.
  • 5 Greens, 1 Labour and 2 Respect candidates proposed that public services should be increasingly locally run.
  • 5 Greens proposed ending the outsourcing/privatisation of public services  and taking them back into public hands.
  • 1 Labour candidate proposed devolving more services from central to local level.
  • 1 Libdem proposed outsourcing more public services to community groups and social enterprises.

 

We hope this helps voters who are interested in these issues – whatever their perspective – in understanding how their candidates may be thinking.

Many thanks to all the candidates who responded to our email, particularly those who gave longer responses to which this brief analysis does not do justice. We would be happy to talk with any of them further about achieving greater political and economic decentralisation in the UK, whether or not they are elected.

Many thanks also to Rebekah Karabinas for hard work on the initial analysis of candidates’ responses.

 

Karen Leach

 

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