Conservative's call for English devolution

Devolution in England is on the agenda for the Conservatives, and much sooner than ever anticipated.

In the aftermath of the Scottish referendum the West Lothian question hung over England as issues regarding who should have the ultimate say in national decisions were thrust into the limelight. If Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have devolved powers where does that leave England in the UK’s political landscape? The answer has perhaps been answered today marking the beginning of something very new and perhaps very big for the UK.

It has been announced that Greater Manchester is to become the first region in England to be given full control over its health care spending. The newly devolved powers would see Greater Manchester’s elected mayor and local leaders decide how the budget should be spent. With the NHS in a spending crisis and budget restraints throughout the system perhaps this new localised way of management is the answer. It would mean spending could be tailored to local needs and prioritised where lack of resources is greatest.

George Osborne the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated ‘this is what the NHS wants to see as part of its future,’ he added that giving control to local people in Manchester was ‘central’ to the Conservative’s vision of the ‘northern powerhouse’. Trying to even out the disparity between London and the rest of the UK, particularly the North which holds so much potential. The £6bn budget will be in the hands of local rather than central government. The changeover is set to happen in April 2016 and a shadow board is to be appointed to work closely with existing groups of GP’s to try and make the transition as smooth as possible.

The plan is the first of its kind to devolve such wide powers to a council within England. Manchester will take the reins from NHS England gaining powers not only with regards to what services are provided but of buildings, regulation and workforce. Osborne is anticipated to visit Manchester in the coming week to fully outline the plans but it seems the powers that would be placed in local hands will be on an unprecedented scale.

Whilst Labour has supported the idea in essence the implementation of the devolved powers has been questioned. The shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has highlighted the issues of offering devolution only in Manchester. He stated that it has to be a solution that ‘works everywhere or could be offered to everywhere’. His concerns were over the system further breaking up the NHS and having one set of rules for some local authorities and a different set of rules for everywhere else.

There are certainly mixed feelings about this planned move. Whilst the NHS has been in trouble for a while and last Autumns 5 year plan released by NHS England called for big changes, the move’s success will certainly depend on its implementation. Whilst decisions made locally may be a welcome change for the NHS and serving to seriously cut the amount of wastage and increase the productive use resources there are still worries of the breakdown of the NHS. A national institution since 1948 the break-up and handing over of major public services is a concern to many and a decision which certainly should not be taken lightly. Whilst we wait with bated breath for George Osborne’s full announcements one thing about this is clear: devolution within England is certainly on the agenda, and perhaps much sooner than was ever anticipated.