Last week's No vote in the Scottish referendum marks the start of a new discussion, one devoted to devolution that could lead to the transform of the whole of the UK. Whatever results from the negotiations around Scottish Devo-max or the immediate fallout for the UK's other regions, what is perhaps more significant is that a generation of voters has recognised a Whitehall and Westminster centred model is not set in stone.
Counties have created an ambitious vision for public services more closely controlled by local people, something we call 'One Place, One Budget.' Our ultimate aim is simple - move the decision about how services are delivered and how communities develop closer to the people effected by those decisions - leading to better and more democratic decisions being made.
Counties have seen the need for a shake-up of how services are controlled, funded and delivered for a long time. After coping with spending reductions of 40% in real terms over the course of the last parliament, while actually improving service user satisfaction for many services, we've reached a point where local government's finances are simply unsustainable.
Instead of begging central Government for more resources, Counties are ready to offer whoever forms the next Government a deal - empower us in the same way you promised devolution for Scotland and in exchange we will continue to achieve improvements in public services while also supporting the economic growth vital to the UK's long-term stability. Without greater control of our finances and new tools for working with other parts of the public sector, a host of service, including the spending that supports economic growth in county areas, will be called into question.
County areas contribute 40% of the UK's GVA and our businesses are at the core of the geographically balanced, private-sector led recovery all three parties see as vital. To ensure we can continue to provide the skills training, infrastructure, business development sites and support that growing businesses require, the Plan for Government proposes a new Core Settlement, which would allow us to keep a larger portion of the revenues from local growth and invest them back into local communities. We work with local businesses to ensure every penny of our spending is spent on initiatives they actually needs, while local people can hold us accountable for the success of these decisions at the ballot box.
CCN spoke to counties across England to find what they need to meet their other challenges - time and again, it was the power to work with local partner organisations in new ways and the need to breakdown silos imposed by Whitehall departments. We're keen to show Government we can provide better return on investment and better results when we have direct access to funds being spent in our communities- if you compare the performance of the Work Programme with the excellent results achieved by so many local employment programmes, created with the needs of the local labour markets in mind, the contrast is striking.
This isn't to say a fairer funding formula and a review of local government finance would not be part of the conversation. With striking inequalities in the way we are funded, including school funding per pupil totaling £6573 a year in London compared to only £4965 a year in Counties, combined with huge strategic costs looming in our future, including providing care to an ever larger population of older people, a funding review is entirely necessary. Counties are keen to balance this with an increased tax contribution to the Exchequer provided by faster economic growth in our communities and more transparency over key spending decisions.
When David Cameron talked today of devolution England's great cities, that excludes a huge swathe of England's voters and over half of England's active enterprises. Counties have the plans, ambitions and track record of successful strategic leadership to be full and equal partners with our peer authorities in England's cities. With the tools to deliver our vision for 'One Place, One Budget,' we can ensure the surge of support for English devolution finds a natural outlet at the County level.
In the run up to the vote, one of the most inspiring aspects to the referendum was listening to a nation discussing the opportunity presented by blank page. The clear challenges on one side were balanced by the opportunity to have the freedom to address them in their own way on the other. For the next Parliament, Counties are asking not for blank page, but a chance to rearrange the puzzle pieces that constitute the public sector in order to do our best for our residents. We hope any Government will listen, counties are responsible for public services delivered to 23 million people while Scotland has 5 million people; any party aiming to capitalise on the push for more local decision-making must not forget this.
With Scotland remaining part of the UK, our task is to create a framework for UK local government that allows us to break the mold set by Whitehall and let local people make more meaningful decisions about their local areas. The CCN Plan for Government is an important step in this journey.