New research: Over the weekend we published our report Give Back Control. The paper has a foreword by the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and is backed by an influential cross-party group of politicians. It urges the Government to unleash a wave of mayoral devolution to level up growth and boost the Conservatives’ electoral prospects.
Sebastian Payne references research from our report Another Brick in the Wall in an article for The Financial Times on what the Conservatives must do to hold on to their suburban heartlands.
The Workington Man – a name first coined by Onward – featured in an article on The Spectator.
Ahead of last month’s Social Fabric Summit, Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel spoke to Prospect Magazine about the key themes of the Summit. His interview was published in June’s edition.
Our Onward team has recently welcomed David Comerford as Head of Events and Development. This was covered in Politico’s London Influence.
On Thursday Director Will Tanner will give evidence to the Public Bill Committee of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.
On the 28th of June, Tuesday, Adam Hawksbee will be speaking alongside Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson and others at the New Statesman Politics Live Conference on a panel about transport and the levelling up agenda. More information here.
‘Onward After Hours’ is our event series for under 35s, connecting the next generation of centre-right political thinkers. These events bring together journalists, special advisors, parliamentary staffers and more, to inspire fresh thinking and build connections
For our second session of 2022, to be hosted on Wednesday, the 29th of June, we will be joined by Andrew Bowie MP, Member of Parliament for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, for a casual drink and a chance to discuss the policy agenda and what matters most for young voters.
Head to our website here for more details and to sign up.
New podcast episode!
In this episode of Building Belonging, Will and Alex speak to Sophia Parker, founder of Little Village, a charity providing young families with clothes, toys and a supportive community.
In most countries mayors are serious civic leaders. They raise taxes, set budgets, build infrastructure and deliver local services. Yet in Britain most mayors are a ceremonial adornment to underpowered local government – more gold chains and village fetes than Mike Bloombergs. A Government committed to levelling up needs to change this.
Labour began experimenting with mayors two decades ago. London has benefited from an empowered leader, and even served as a springboard to Downing Street. Since 2017 new mayors have sprung up outside the capital. Andy Burnham and Andy Street have built national reputations and started making progress on issues like skills and transport.
But Whitehall is struggling to let go, and continued micromanagement means that metro mayors don’t have the powers to match their profile. A byzantine system of funding pots and bidding processes leads to lobbying in London instead of delivering for voters.
Nowhere is this more true than on the freedom to tax and spend. Just 5% of our taxes are raised locally, while in France it is three times higher, and in Germany six times. Only around a quarter of our taxes are spent by local leaders in the UK, compared to half in the US and three quarters in Canada.
When it comes to tackling today’s major problems – the cost of living crisis, low economic growth, reaching net zero – this leaves the country with one hand tied behind its back.
Mayors can deliver more effectively, using local insight and nimbler teams to get things done. They can innovate, replicating the ‘laboratories of democracy’ that Alexis De Tocqueville observed in America, where new ideas were trialled by cities and states. Most importantly they hold soft power to convene and champion. In Teesside, Ben Houchen has used his platform as Mayor to double foreign investment.
Proper tax raising powers are crucial because they provide the resources to deliver. But also because they make mayors beholden to taxpayers instead of Whitehall. This is where a single directly-elected figure is key to accountability. 8 in 10 voters in Manchester and London can name their mayor, only 1 in 10 can name their council leader.
In Onward’s new report – Give Back Control – we set out a plan to empower mayors and scrutinise them more effectively. Greater control over business rates and council tax are important first steps, along with a process to introduce new local levies. But ultimately we need to think bigger, and England’s mayors should retain a penny in the pound of income tax, representing an annual revenue stream of £6 billion.
England’s mayors need to kick off their robes and step into the twenty-first century. Giving back control over taxation is the right place to start.
A version of this note first appeared on The Times Thunderer on 21/06/22.
Deputy Director of Onward
The Department for Transport has announced a further £15 million in funding to develop 9 ‘Restoring Your Railway’ schemes across England that will reopen disused railway lines, services and stations. Link
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced £43.7 million joint industry and Government funding to support the development of the latest green auto tech, including electric motorbikes and off-road vehicles. Link
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published a white paper setting out its plans for a fairer rented sector. Link