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UK government and opposition back devolution of strategic powers to city regions

The UK government and the Labour party have indicated their commitment to the devolution of strategic powers, including decision-making over planning and housing, to England's city regions.

Speaking on behalf of housing minister Brandon Lewis at a conference this week, the government's chief planner Steve Quartermain said that the government hoped other city regions would seek to follow the example of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and reach agreements over the devolution of strategic powers.

Agreement was reached between the GMCA and the UK treasury earlier this month on the introduction of a directly-elected Greater Manchester mayor and the devolution of certain powers to the mayor and the GMCA. Among the powers to be granted to the new mayor will be "the power to create a statutory spatial strategy" and control of over a new housing investment fund, a GMCA statement said.

According to a report in the Financial Times, chancellor George Osborne is set to announce progress towards similar deals with Leeds and Sheffield in his Autumn Statement next week. The report said that the cities were expected to be given spending powers in relation to housebuilding, transport and skills as part of the government's plans to create a 'northern powerhouse'. The report said that the government will not insist on elected mayors as part of the arrangements.

Speaking at an awards ceremony last night, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said that a Labour government would "radically devolve power and £30 billion of funding over a Parliament to city and county regions in every part of England".

Balls said that the Labour party would "give groups of local authorities substantial new powers over back-to-work schemes, to drive house building and to integrate, invest in and plan transport infrastructure". The party hoped to deliver "not just a 'northern powerhouse', but a 'Midlands powerhouse' too. Devolution not just to cities, but across all our towns and county regions too ", Balls said.

Balls said that devolution under a Labour government would be "conditional on local authorities coming together to collaborate in combined authorities". Those councils doing so would benefit from being allowed to retain "all the additional business rates generated by growth", said Balls, adding that the Labour party would not impose elected mayors on new combined authorities.

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