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Labour Is Calling for a More Ambitious and Comprehensive Devolution Agenda to Every Part of the Country

06/07/2015 00:10 BST | Updated 05/07/2016 10:59 BST

We are one of the most centralised countries in Europe. It is by design, rather than by accident, that London dominates our economy and its growth apes all of our major cities. For decades, British politicians and civil servants have hoarded power in Whitehall and have failed to trust local government. Whereas our big European neighbours, Germany and France, have done the opposite. Their major cities have powers beyond our British imagination and, as a result, their growth and success is comparable to Berlin and Paris.

We should be proud of the dynamism of our capital city. Long may it continue. But we urgently need to rebalance our economy to drive growth and prosperity in other parts of the country. Devolving power and resources to local authorities and communities is central to reforming and improving our public services. And it will help to restore faith in our politics by bringing decision-making closer to people, giving them greater control over services and the future of their communities.

On Wednesday, when the Chancellor sets out his emergency budget, Labour is calling on the government to deliver a more ambitious and comprehensive package on devolution to every part of the country. Power and resources must flow out of Whitehall and into the hands of communities in all our cities, towns and counties. The government must unleash a new era of opportunity for all, not just a few hand-picked areas. Doing a small number of one-off deals is not a one-nation approach, but smacks of the Tory divide-and-rule approach to politics.

Crucially, the package of powers must be ambitious. Local decision-makers are in a better position, than those in Whitehall, to pull the right levers to attract investment and drive economic growth and job creation. The opening offer should include powers and funding in housing, transport, employment support, skills and retention of business rates growth so local areas reap the rewards of their decisions. But these powers should be the beginning of the conversation, not the end. The presumption should be in favour of devolution, not against it.

Yet devolution will not be meaningful if local areas don't have the resources they need. Local authorities have already seen the biggest cuts to any part of the public sector - a huge reduction of 40% over the last five years. The Local Government Association predicts a funding gap of £9.5billion by the end of the decade. The Conservatives have been predictably brutal and cavalier in imposing the biggest cuts in areas with the greatest needs and deprivation. It cannot possibly be fair that areas with the highest numbers of children in care have suffered cuts three times the size of those with the fewest. Nor can it be fair, nor indeed efficient, that areas with the greatest demand for elderly social care have been in the firing line. Councils provide essential services caring for older people whether it's a grab rail at home, some home cooked meals or a day centre. Deterioration in these services have led to poorer quality of life for some of the most vulnerable people in society but also greater costs for our National Health Service.

Put simply, devolution must not be a smokescreen for bringing local government to its knees.

The government's rhetoric on devolution also flies in the face of the facts. While the government boasts of creating a Northern Powerhouse, the reality is that no part of the country has faced bigger cuts to local authority budgets than the North of England. And last week the concept hit the buffers as Ministers were forced to announce that they were shelving the trans-Pennine express railway line between Manchester and Leeds, so-called HS3, and electrification of the Midland mainline. You cannot fuel a powerhouse on hot air alone.

For all the Tories warm words, it is Labour that has led the way on devolution. Labour council leaders have been knocking on the door of the Treasury seeking more power and resources. They know that they can deliver better opportunities for their communities and take fairer decisions than any Tory administration. We are calling on the government to deliver an ambitious and comprehensive package on devolution, handing power to every area and region of our country North and South, East and West.

Emma Reynolds is the shadow secretary of state for communities and local government and MP for Wolverhampton North East