The legislative deadlock that exists in Westminster as a result of the continued chaos over the EU referendum means the case for devolution has never been stronger. It is ironic that regions in the United Kingdom, be that countries such as Scotland or large cities such as Manchester, are wrestling with parliament to take control of budgets and laws. This article breaks down the case for devolution in two key sectors; employment and the environment.
In the Greater Manchester City region, a key initiative has been to establish the Manchester Employment and Skills Board. This has been important to the Manchester region in giving onus back to employers so that they can identify the skills shortages that exist. This is significant as such businesses have a leading role in the design of what is included on apprenticeship courses. Many U.K. regions have chronic skills shortage, and only in London is the demand for skills greater than in the North West, where the surplus of demand is 25.69%. Furthermore, in all three devolved nations, employment rates have increased faster than the national average. For example, in Scotland in 1999, employment stood at 71.5%, and by 2008 it had jumped to 76.5%. Similar spikes are observed in both Northern Ireland and Wales. Strikingly, according to the Joseph Rowntree foundation, the greatest impact of this has been on women.
The U.K. labour market is extremely diverse, and as is often the case, central Government has been inapt to respond to such issues. The variety of issues that fall to parliament often mean that structural employment issues are cast aside. Local representatives enhance democracy and for devolved regions and nations, they present a more in touch and compassionate approach to policy-making, as they are better placed to understand and respond to such issues.
The response of US mayors to the election of Donald Trump has been compelling and refreshing, and supports my belief that in the face of a tyrannical national leader, devolved regions can curb that vision. The common vision and resilience of the leaders of the respective cities has promoted the view that whilst party politics can tilt some approaches to politics, others will not be so easily bent. Perhaps this is why central government in the U.K. is so resilient to full devolution, as more left-wing and progressive views tend to spawn in cities.
For instance, Martin Walsh Mayor of Boston said:
The Science hasn’t changed. The urgency hasn’t changed.
Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington D.C. added:
As mayors and citizens, we are determined to lead the way on facing the climate crisis
It has been identified that US cities can contribute more than 1/3 of the emissions reductions needed by 2025 to meet the US’ commitments to the Paris agreement. In New York, USA, the Mayor’s office ‘Greener, Greater Building Plan’ was launched in 2009, and has shown marked results. Large buildings currently account for 45% of the cities carbon emissions. The plan is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 4.5% since 2009 and has saved £3 million in energy bills annually.
San Francisco illustrates how targeted laws that have come around because of a comprehensive vision can bring real change to a region. Between 1990 and 2010, the recycling rate increased from 20 to 77%. Initiatives included targeting residential waste, public procurement and the implementation of a colour coded system. This strongly contrasts to the national average in the US, where the recycling rate stood at just 26%.
The full devolution of powers, laws and money is the next significant step for British politics. As we undertake a significant divergence in our nation’s economic prosperity, devolution offers an opportunity to rebalance the economy. Local policy-makers are best fitted to respond to regional issues, and offer a safety-net for our democracy. Elections for local leaders have been shown to produce more comprehensive results, for example with Sadiq Kahn, who was supported by 56.8% of the electorate, in comparison to his nearest rival who gained 43.2%. Andy Burnham received 63% of the vote share.
Though sceptics will point to the lack of turnout, Andy managed to galvanise support across a range of constituencies that voted to leave the EU, despite him campaigning to remain. Devolution is fit to respond to a range of issues, be that in employment or the environment, and particularly in times of crises as have marked the years previous, both in the U.K. and the U.S.