City leaders call for devolution away from Westminster as Brexit becomes a reality.
A radical shift of power from Westminster is needed to help combat the impact of Brexit, a new network of mayors and city leaders has said after what they described as a historic meeting in Bristol.
The gathering agreed to press central government for greater local control more broadly. Seventeen mayors, leaders or the deputies, both Labour and Tory, met at Bristol city hall with Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool and London among the cities represented. The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said Brexit meant dramatic changes were needed. “The country urgently needs to rebalance and we need a radical shift of power out of Westminster and the London-centric system we’ve got,” he said. “The reality of Brexit means people are looking at what’s coming next year with new eyes. We’re of the view the engine of the global economy is the city and city region. “The mayors have agreed we need to make a unified call as part of the comprehensive spending review next year. It means freeing cities up to punch their way and make their own way, take control of their destiny.
“We’re going to hit next year and, if we’re not careful, there could be a sense of loss of confidence in the regional economy. The government needs to get ahead of that. It needs to be making plans to put more energy and confidence into the regional economy. The best way to do that is through a radical programme of devolution.”
The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said: “National government doesn’t have the dynamism to deal with the problems the country and the world faces. You have to start looking at local and regional leadership. We need the leaders of cities and regions to lead the country alongside national government as equal partners, not as division two partners.”
Rees said cities and regions needed more control of the money given to them and, in the long term, more fiscal devolution. “How can you plan for your future if you’re waiting to see if you’ve been lucky enough to get something dished out to you?” he said.
“We’re grown-up cities and regions. At the moment, government is like a drowning person. Cities and regions can come to the rescue but the danger is that government drags us down with them by thrashing about. Just relax, give us the space to do what we need to do. Having a relationship of equals would do untold good for the UK.”
A “global parliament” of mayors also wrapped up a three-day gathering in Bristol with a call for cities to play a greater role in setting policy at the national and international level. More than 80 mayors from Africa, the Americas and Asia attended the summit and produced a declaration that read: “From migration to climate change, from inequality to population health, global and national institutions are not delivering.” They also said they would back the UN compacts on migration and refugees, put pressure on national governments to focus on community-based approaches to policing and call on the World Health Organisation to include city leaders in its assembly.