Today the remainder of the City Deals were announced – Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield joined Manchester and Liverpool in unveiling some new local powers. What to make of this?
In general, it's good.
What's different about the City Deals (and likely to send enthusiasts like me gushing about how great they are) is that they are genuinely deals. Clegg and Clarke, the two Ministers mainly responsible, deserve credit for an approach based on bespoke agreements with city leaderships. That breaks the old trap where power isn't devolved because local leadership is seen as weak, but then local leadership remains weak because no power is devolved. These Deals are real, proper, devolution of some tangible and specific things, and it’s come about by working with the cities.
That's in contrast, for example, to the referenda for directly elected Mayors. Westminster leaders decided it would be A Good Thing, and then organised ballots. Government didn’t prepare the ground, make the case or spell out what powers would be available. And most voted against mayors. That was a bit depressing for their fans - but the City Deals show that localism is still bumping along, and show how to do it. And that’s by doing it with places, not to places.
That said, a note of caution. It remains to be seen whether central Government is really serious about further devolution beyond this wave of City Deals. And it's up to the cities to grab the opportunity: one of the curious things about devolution is Scotland, for example, is that its full powers have never been used, even under the SNP.
So the deals look like good news – but we'll need a bit of time before we can really judge the extent of the cities' ambitions.