Failing central government agencies should be shown a ‘red card’ and have their services brought under local control, a top think tank has said.
ResPublica called for local authorities to have a right to challenge central government with ‘yellow’ or ‘red cards’ as a prelude to directly intervening and taking over responsibility for failing services.
It added the process should be judged by an independent body and went on to suggest that the wider devolution agenda could be supported by a Devolution Agency providing a link between cities and central government departments.
The move would help local authorities take over more responsibility for rail franchising, a process already started with the Department for Transport through Rail North.
The report Missing Multipliers: Devolution to Britain’s Key Cities, argues that 26 medium-sized ‘key cities’ such as Cambridge and Sunderland are the ‘missing multipliers’ in the current devolution drive and that billions could be saved if they were given more power and flexibility.
Such cities should be handed five year funding settlements and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill needs to be expanded to give the ‘fullest possible devolution of funding and powers to all cities, towns and counties’.
It even goes on to say the Bill should allow cities ‘the facility to fashion alternative governance models not currently on the statute books’.
Communities secretary, Greg Clark, responded to the report stating: 'The role of Key Cities are critical to the UK’s economic growth, and I am pleased that so many of they are playing a central role in shaping the devolution proposals currently being negotiated with the Government.
'I would encourage them all, individually and collectively, to ensure that they continue to influence these negotiations to ensure they deliver the powers and flexibilities they need to maximise their future economic growth.'
ResPublica states: ‘Efficiency savings can be achieved by pooling central and local budgets and allowing local authorities to administer the funds across certain public services.
'Assuming that the potential savings can be fully realised across all public services, ResPublica estimates that Key Cities could reduce their borrowing requirement by between £1.8bn and £3.5bn per year based on 2012/13 levels of spending. This could reduce the annual “budget deficit” of Key Cities from £7bn to between £3.5 and £5.2bn.
It also calls for more cross-boundary working on transport and planning between cities, stating: 'Key Cities should seek to combine with neighbouring authorities on the basis of boundaries which correspond with present patterns of human activity and according to a robust understanding of their functional economic market area, including travel t to work patterns, housing markets, and the extent to which the supply chains for major industrial sectors form a coherent ecosystem. This will test the degree to which Key Cities are ‘self-contained’.'