A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION IS ANSWER FOR BUSINESS
The Confederation of British Industry has a confused position on devolution. This week its Director General, John Cridland,described the plethora of regeneration schemes like City Deals and Growth Funds as “a tower of Babel” that business had to try and cope with. He also complained about the multiple tiers of government, particularly with local councils in the shires, and accused politicians of doing devolution by deadline with back door deals. He told an audience in Manchester we needed to take things gradually and allow all voices to be heard.
So I asked Mr Cridland whether he would support a Constitutional Convention so that the CBI, along with everyone else, could have their say in shaping a coherent solution to a range of issues from the governance of the North and business support to the future shape of local government and the Local Enterprise Partnerships; he refused to commit himself. This was because we are in a General Election campaign and it is Labour Party policy to have a Convention. However in other answers he made it clear he favoured the sort of piecemeal approach to devolution which is likely to lead to the continuation of the confused picture of Combined Authorities, two tier councils, elected mayors and centralised government support schemes that we have now.
Despite this muddled thinking Cridland did make an important speech outlining how business sees devolution. Its central purpose had to be getting the regions to perform better. The CBI chief reckoned they could contribute £56bn towards the deficit of £90bn.
For the UK as a whole he regarded it as essential that we retain common business taxation and financial rules as well as a common energy and labour market.
For English regions he had three criteria for growth friendly devolution. They were evidence that it would boost growth, better local leadership and the minimisation of bureaucracy and complexity.
The CBI is dead against tax varying powers in City Regions. He reminded his Manchester audience of the years before uniform business rates when companies had to lobby each local council and rates varied wildly.
He however did support local tax retention schemes like Manchester’s buy back arrangements.
He praised the devolution deal that Greater Manchester had negotiated but posed the vital question about what happens to the rest of the North? Well Mr Cridland that’s the sort of issue that could be addressed in a comprehensive Constitutional Convention which the CBI needs to support.
CONSTITUENCY FOCUS: ROSSENDALE AND DARWEN.
Could we see the Straw dynasty survive in the new parliament? Jack Straw is standing down in Blackburn and there had been speculation that his son, Will, would succeed him.
But, unlike America where you can be President providing you are called Clinton or Bush, here we don’t care for dynastic politics. So Will is trying his hand in the much more marginal nearby seat of Rossendale and Darwen. Part of the constituency has Blackburn as its local council but it includes the south Lancashire communities of Rawtenstall and Bacup as well.
It has swung between Labour and the Tories over the years. Currently Jake Berry holds the seat with a majority of under five thousand having ousted Labour’s Janet Anderson in 201