Lord Porter is Chairman of the Local Government Association.
The vote to leave the EU is the most important decision that the British people have made in the past seventy years and it will undoubtedly have major implications for the governance of the UK as a whole.
With the negotiations yet to begin and an agreement on our future relationship with the EU likely to take up to two years, it is clearly difficult at this stage to state, with any certainty, what the specific implications for local government are likely to be.
However, I do believe that the referendum campaign and the Brexit result confirm something that many of us have long been aware of: that significant numbers of people feel removed from the institutions that make many of the big decisions that affect their day-to-day lives and that there is a real appetite for a radical devolution of power to local areas.
The Government’s vision for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a clear recognition that decisions taken at a more local level deliver better outcomes and more accountability. Building on this vision, the Government has invited all areas in England to come forward with proposals for their own devolution deals.
The most recent deals involve a number of non-metropolitan areas such as Greater Lincolnshire, which includes my own council area of South Holland.
In practical terms, this means that people in South Holland will benefit from decisions on key issues – ranging from the franchising of bus services to the funding and delivery of some skills and training programmes – being delivered much more locally.
These are important developments for my area and many others but as we plan for a post-Brexit UK I believe that we need to be even more radical.
For example, notwithstanding what we have secured in Lincolnshire, £10.5 billion in national support for skills and training, programmes remain highly centralised and delivered by over 20 schemes, including the European Social Fund (ESF). This inevitably results in duplicate or competing interventions that waste taxpayers’ money and fail those who they are supposed to help.
So how, for example, would schemes that are currently delivered by the ESF be supported when we leave the EU?
I would argue that this particular Brexit challenge should encourage us to radically re-think how the system as a whole is delivered.
For example, in Greater Manchester, where devolution is particularly advanced, the local Working Well scheme is tailored at people who have been failed by the national Work Programme.
This much more personalised approach, which is closely aligned to local needs, has doubled the number of young people successfully supported into work. It is a clear success for devolution.
In recent years, councils have successfully risen to the challenges posed by reduced funding whilst also embracing the opportunities offered by localism and devolution. We operate in an environment characterised by constant change and I believe that whatever our own personal views on Brexit, it offers an opportunity for local government collectively to argue for a new, more radical phase of devolution that will allow us to deliver better outcomes for our areas.