The Government’s “levelling-up” agenda is destined to fail because ministers are unwilling to decentralise power from Whitehall, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will say.
In a speech to the Labour Local Government Association conference in Warwick on Sunday, the Labour leader will accuse the Tories of “hoarding” power at the centre while “squandering” the potential of the rest of the country.
He will say that a Labour government in Westminster will offer a new partnership with local government, with decisions being made “as locally as practicable”.
In his address, Sir Keir will say that the Conservatives’ reluctance to devolve power is directly linked to the current cost-of-living crisis.
“Hoarding power at the centre has consequences. The Tories’ economic record is appalling. Low growth has led to stagnant wages and high taxes,” he will say.
“The Tories are failing to make the most of every part of the country. They are squandering the amazing potential that sits in our towns, cities, coastal areas, and rural communities. The cost-of-living crisis is born of this.
“And when you read the small print of the Tories’ so-called levelling-up agenda, you can see it’s the same old story – power exercised from the centre, increasingly unaccountable, with citizens shut out from the decisions that affect them the most. I call it divide and rule.”
Sir Keir will contrast the conduct of ministers during the pandemic with the standards expected of local government leaders.
“Imagine if local councillors behaved like Rishi Sunak, casually writing off £4 billion he lost to Covid fraudsters, or Sajid Javid, literally setting fire to £4 billion worth of unusable Covid masks and gowns,” he will say.
“The Tories may as well be burning fifty-pound notes in front of our eyes. The truth is this – Rishi Sunak or Sajid Javid wouldn’t last ten minutes as a cabinet member for finance.
“And imagine what your council’s standards committee would say if the council leader and his mates were holding booze-fuelled parties in the council chamber during Covid lockdown.”
Sir Keir will say that a Labour government would “rebalance” power in the country, working together with civic leaders and elected mayors on local economic projects and shaping national policy.
“There is a better Labour way. A new partnership in power, and with a Labour government, as a matter of principle, decisions will be made as locally as practicable,” he will say.
“A new wave of powers devolved to help grow local economies. An end to the uncertainty of one-year funding settlements, and more stable funding to allow councils to plan.
“More discretion for metro mayors and local government to spend their budgets how they see fit. No more pitting council against council for pockets of cash.”