The Government’s Fraudulent and Hypocritical Devolution Must be Opposed
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill became an Act of Parliament on January 28. This fraudulent and hypocritical Act has been rushed through Parliament just as Cities and Local Governments have also been rushed to sign up to it during its passage through Parliament. The Act claims to devolve some powers over public services and budgets to cities and local authorities only if a Mayor is provided for the combined authority who embodies these added powers. Many authorities have signed the agreements with the government, yet the government has provided very little detail in the vague text of the agreements, or how it will be funded. Cornwall, Manchester, the West Midlands, the North East and five pilots in London are among the biggest cities and authorities already signed up to the Act.
On October 23, 2015, before the Act was passed the Tees Valley Shadow Combined Authority (TVSCA) signed its agreement with the government that includes powers for employment and skills, transport, planning and investment for the region. However, there is no reference to health in this agreement unlike the rest of the north east of England authorities. On the same day the North East Combined Authority (NECA) signed a devolution deal with the government including a commitment to establish a Commission for Health and Social Care Integration for the north east to “establish the scope and basis for further health and social care integration, deeper collaboration and devolution across the Combined Authority’s area and reduce health inequalities in order to improve outcomes”.
Both these devolution agreements mean that the two combined authorities must hold elections for a combined authority Mayor. For example, NECA’s agreement states that the mayor “will create the UK’s first integrated transport system”. This statement beggars belief when in the first place the integrated public authority transport systems, not just for the north east but the whole of the country, were destroyed by the privatisation of rail, buses and ferries in the 1980s. More recently last year, at the same time the government was signing this agreement with NECA on “devolution”, they were also representing the interests of the big transport companies, Stagecoach and Arriva. On behalf of these transport monopolies a government watchdog quango sabotaged the plans of NECA to introduce “quality contracts” even though these contracts only attempted to assert local authority control over the contracts, bus fares and the bus routes of these private monopolies! This is the stage that is being set for “devolution” – that the outsourcing of public service contracts to private companies and safeguarding their interests is to be sacrosanct. Then by this Act the Mayor has extra powers to add a premium to rates to pay for new infrastructure projects and also the borrowing of funds, but only provided the Mayor has “business support” which is all implicit in the Act.
Similarly, with health and social care integration. Health and social care was integrated in the past before the right to long term health and social care was abrogated in the 1990s with the introduction of charges for “social” care and the privatisation of nursing and care homes. Today both health and social care budgets are in crisis because the savage cuts governments have imposed over many years. Therefore, the issue is not whether the decisions are taken in London, or the north east of England. The issue of “health and social care integration” can only be dealt with when the right to health and social care is guaranteed by the government and all public authorities. The issue is not one of “devolution” but that government is not carrying out its responsibility to ensure that there are public authorities providing health and social care and that they are fully resourced.
The role of the Mayor has itself become an anachronism in modern society in almost all cities and boroughs with the Mayor confined to ceremonial and other official duties. It is now being revived as a cover to appoint by election regional Chief Executives of England PLC. The reality shows that this “devolution” to an elected north east mayor cannot empower the people of the north east and the rest of the England but is aimed at entrenching further the destruction of public authorities and further concentrating the affairs of cities and regions in the hands of the executive of the ruling elite and the monopoly interests. The government’s fraudulent and hypocritical “devolution” must be opposed.