Devolution debate: East Midlands pushes for more power

More Power to the East Midlands?
Image caption In the More Power to the East Midlands? special I did not detect much support for an English Parliament

So now, it's wait and see. That seems to be the conclusion of politicians in the East Midlands on what devolution powers may be on offer from the government.

Maybe a clue can be found in the deal for greater powers offered by the Chancellor George Osborne for Greater Manchester.

He's bundled up controls over transport, policing and economic development in exchange for having an elected mayor.

The leader of Derbyshire County Council, Labour's Anne Western, has seized on that idea.

"In Derby and Derbyshire, the councils are already coming together to form a combined authority," she told me.

"We recognise the importance of the counties, especially in the East Midlands. We are not dominated by one city and when you look at economic activity outside of London, 50% is in the county areas."

Image caption In the devolution debate, councillor Nick McDonald said what is wanted is "not particularly revolutionary"

So after a week of special coverage on the BBC about devolution for England, what have we learnt?

Certainly, the East Midland cities of Nottingham and Leicester are impatient for devolved powers.

"We are trying to drive economic growth, but we've got one hand tied behind our back," said councillor Nick McDonald, Nottingham City Council's cabinet member for economic regeneration.

"What we want is not particularly revolutionary. But we don't have controls over transport systems and we don't retain property tax or business rates.

"We can create economic growth and jobs, but we need the powers to do it."

For me, a surprise in this whole debate came in the findings of a BBC survey on voter attitudes to devolution.

The English vote

  • 74% of people living in the East Midlands would support plans to allow only English MPs to vote on issues which affect England alone

  • 62% supported the idea of setting up an English parliament – against an England average of 53%

According to the ComRes polling, more people in the East Midlands favour creating an English parliament than any other region. At 62%, support was nine points higher than the average for England.

So why's that? The English Democrats, the political party that espouses a parliament for England, has struggled to make any sort of electoral breakthrough in the East Midlands. UKIP has cornered this market.

"Why should England be treated any different from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland," said the English Democrats' Derek Hilling.

"Scotland has its own first minister and parliament, why can't England."

During the BBC TV devolution debate in the East Midlands, I didn't detect support - other than Derek - for an English Parliament. There was also lukewarm support for the idea of returning to some form of regional assembly or government.

"That's the last thing we want. Nobody wants another layer of bureaucracy," said Councillor Kay Cutts, leader of the Conservatives on Nottinghamshire County Council.

And South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler told me a regional assembly would be a "red line" issue for her.

William Hague's devolution blue-print for England is due later this month which she says is "absolutely critical".

"If we can get cross-party support for that, we could get something on statute-book before next May's General Election," she added.

So perhaps, devolution for England isn't heading for the political long-grass after all.

Better off with Scotland

  • 76% of people in the East Midlands said the UK was better off with Scotland than without it

  • 21% of people in the East Midlands disagreed

  • 34% of people in the region opposed setting up an English parliament for MPs only representing English constituencies

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Graham Allen, the chairman of the Commons' Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, believes the time is right for a radical change.

"We have to tell the political leaders and the people who still want to rule this country from Whitehall: those days are over," he said.

The ComRes survey also revealed that four out of five people want more powers devolved to their locality.

Any poll is a snap-shot of opinion, but there does seem to be a political mood in this English region for change. It's a mood this government ignores at its peril.

More Power to the East Midlands? is available on iPlayer until December. During the show a live page summarising the debate was published and viewers were encouraged to tweet with the hashtag #eastmidswhatnext.

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