'Regions should have their own treasuries'
Local government bosses are demanding a massive overhaul of how public money is allocated amid claims that English regions lose out to the home nations.
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, will today deliver a keynote speech to Westcountry public sector chiefs to outline a radical blueprint for funding reform.
He will argue English communities are being denied the public services they deserve because of the way Whitehall allocates and spends taxpayers' money. According to the latest Treasury figures, spending per head in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was around £200 per year higher than in the South West.
Sir Merrick will call for each region to have its own treasury and a vote on local taxation and spending issues. The Barnett formula, which distributes public spending between the nations of the UK, should be scrapped and a single "England Office" created, he will say.
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Amid deep cuts to local government funding, Sir Merrick will say: "English communities deserve a fair deal."
At Exeter's Guildhall, he will launch the Rewiring Public Services report, which sets out ten ideas to prevent the public sector from being "geared toward handling failure rather than preventing it in the first place".
The ten-point plan includes:
A single "England Office" by merging six government departments and relevant parts of the Home Office to end "inefficiency" in discussions over funding allocations.
Getting rid of the Barnett formula, first introduced in 1978 to close the economic gap between under-funded Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compared to England. The calculation has since created a massive disparity among English regions. In 2003, a select committee of MPs heard evidence that concluded the South West would receive an extra £1 billion a year in public spending if the national cake was divided up on the basis of need.
It also wants local government to be given multi-year settlements tied to the life of the Parliament to aid financial planning.
Sir Merrick said: "Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have a significant say over everything from health services to public transport, yet England's communities are still battling for the same freedoms.
"We want to ensure that all parts of the UK are equally represented. Funding must be based on need rather than historical precedent and local communities everywhere should have more influence over how public services are paid for, prioritised, and delivered.
"The absence of a Secretary of State for England, whose job it is to fight in the Cabinet Room on their behalf, means they are currently not getting one. That must be addressed in the next Parliament."
Earlier this year, Chancellor George Osborne announced that local authorities will also have to cope with a 10% cut in their central government grant in 2015 – on top of a 33% real terms cut over the previous four years.
Councillor Pete Edwards, leader of Labour-controlled Exeter City Council, will be attending today's event. He said: "These are tough times for local authorities, but it's obvious that we need a new approach.
"The way that public money is currently distributed and spent needs to change, otherwise we will have a potential crisis of trust within our communities.
"There needs to be much more collaboration across the sector and greater focus on place rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
"Now is the time for the Government to come forward and give us the tools that will enable us to drive growth in our local economies."