Blog: We need English devolution, not metro mayors

The flag of Yorkshire

In December last year residents of Doncaster and Barnsley voted to reject the government’s ‘Sheffield City Region’ combined authority which will see an elected metro mayor in a region straddling South Yorkshire, and parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has persistently rejected demands from many of the region’s politicians, including MPs and council leaders, for a broader devolution package which would encompass the entire region, respecting its natural geography and shared cultural identities.

The introduction of metro mayors in a number of urban centres has been hailed by the government as delivering devolution for England, addressing the imbalance created when devolved governments where set up in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But whether its the Sheffield City Region with its soon-to-be-elected metro mayor, or some other kind of super-mayor for Yorkshire as a whole, the government appears to have little intention of delivering anything but a paltry reorganisation of local government, combining existing local authorities and their powers in a new super-authority, run by a directly elected mayor, but without an elected council or assembly of any kind. The mayor will be free from the hindrance and burden of ongoing public scrutiny or democratic accountability.

England needs genuine decentralisation that moves power out from London and into England’s cities and counties. Metro mayors are in fact the very opposite: amalgamation and centralisation diverting power away from communities and upwards to an all powerful mayoralty, a new layer or bureaucracy, and no real accountability or democracy beyond the mayor’s own electoral mandate.

Unnecessary and excessive centralisation, such as this, damages our democracy. It empowers bureaucrats and pen pushers, leaving ordinary people and communities virtually powerless, subject to laws made and decisions taken high up a managerial chain of command by people with limited or no direct knowledge of local circumstances or needs. This is not devolution, it does not enhance our democracy or lead to effective administration. It will certainly not address the feeling of being ignored and forgotten that is common in many communities around Britain.

Yorkshire and the rest of England needs devolution. It must be even and fair across the land. It must be on a par with existing devolved governments in the rest of the United Kingdom. It should not seek to separate urban hubs from the rural regions which surround them and with which they are intricately intertwined. It should not be imposed by central government, as is happening with metro mayors and combined authorities, but should be an initiative coming from the ground up, negotiated with and supported by central government. It should respect natural regions and communities, especially when they are bound by strong collective identities, as is so clearly the case throughout Yorkshire.

Devolution is a step on the path to a federal Britain. But it must be done right, with the collective and mutual interests of all involved. Sadly, we have a UK government which seems interested only in capturing the vast potential economic benefits of devolution and federalism, through top-down devolution which merely imitates decentralisation, rather than truly empowering communities and people throughout the UK.

By Robert Jones
Leader of the Federalist Party


  • It’s often said that there is little or no interest within what is commonly considered England for ‘regional’ devolution. This is not quite true however.

    50,000 people signed a petition calling for a Cornish Assembly in 2002. At the time a Cornwall Council opinion poll put support for a Cornish assembly at around 55%. The petition was collected over a couple of months by some motivated volunteers before the age of social media. This 10% of our population met with the criteria set by Prescott for the government to investigate a ‘regions’ desire for devolution. New Labour decided to renege on this promise and ignore Cornish calls for an assembly, pigheadedly sticking to their artificial government-zone regions drawn up in Whitehall.

    Various Liberal Democrat MP’s for Cornwall have defended the idea of Cornish devolution as well as campaigning for Cornish national minority status, funding of the Cornish language and democratic accountability for the Duchy of Cornwall. Perhaps the last example of this being Dan Rogersons Government of Cornwall Bill. It should also be noted that the Green party, amongst others, also supports Cornish devolution.

    The last PLASC date for Cornish schools showed that 46% of children would choose Cornish to describe their identity rather than English, British or some mixture.

    Mebyon Kernow – the party for Cornwall:

    The Cornish Constitutional Convention:

    The Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Cornish:

    • Thank you for your comment. As Federalists, we believe in the principle of self determination for communities with distinct cultural identities such as Cornwall. It should be up to the people of Cornwall to determine their political relationship to the rest of the UK, such as a devolved region or the constituent part of a federal UK.

      We are keen to work with other organisations and parties, locally working towards similar aims.

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