UK ‘too centralised’ and should roll out ‘devo-max’ says Conservative MP
The UK is “one of the most centralised countries in the world” and the UK Government should adopt a “devo-max” approach to the regions, a Conservative MP has said.
Jake Berry, the chairman of the Conservatives’ Northern Research Group (NRG) of MPs, said that the formula that decides how much spending Wales and Scotland get per head should also apply to the north of England.
Only a radical levelling-up agenda to keep hold of the red-wall voters who turned to the Tories in 2019, the Lancashire MP said.
Jake Berry told the NRG’s inaugural conference in Doncaster: “This  sea-change isn’t permanent and it would be a mistake to believe it was an unconditional vote for the Conservative Party.”
He outlined a three-point plan which called for a levelling-up formula for English regions on the same basis as the Barnett formula, which adjusts funding to Scotland and Wales, noting that spending in London is 15% higher per head than the UK average.
The Barnett formula is a mechanism used by the Treasury ito automatically adjust the amounts of public expenditure allocated to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to reflect changes in spending levels allocated to public services in England.
Mr Berry said: “We must end this system that prioritises investment in the south east over all other area of the country.”
The Rossendale and Darwen MP said: “A levelling-up formula wouldn’t just do that for the north. It would be like the Barnett formula, which has helped send money to the devolved nations for years.”
He said: “This is an idea from the north that can truly unite and level up our nation.”
He added: “Whilst people and communities in the north have been crying out for grassroots change, all Whitehall as given us is Astroturf. If levelling-up is to mean anything, it must be radical.
“That means an end to incremental government, and end to the conservation of southern privilege because, whether they like it or not, this is our new political reality.”
Jake Berry also said the Government needed to accelerate the movement of Whitehall functions out of London, saying the idea that key operations needed to remain in the capital had become a barrier to change.
Referring to the plan to move some Treasury functions and staff to Darlington, Mr Berry told the conference: “Instead of a Treasury based in Westminster with a northern campus, why not have Treasury based in Darlington with a campus in London – a sort of civil service Whitehall hub with government departments moved to the regions?”
He said: “The pace of change is just too slow.”
Mr Berry said devolved regions needed the power to lower taxes, pointing out that the north has an economy bigger than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – equivalent to the ninth largest economy in Europe.
He said: “In short we want to build an economy that is more Canary North and less Canary Wharf.”
The former Northern Powerhouse minister criticised Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s policy of aiming for 50% of school leavers to attend university, saying it had failed Britain’s youth.
He called for academic and vocational education to have an “equal footing” and said he wanted to see new educational establishments in the north based on skills training, which he referred to as “Voxbridge”.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.