Council boss demands devolution for Sunderland as Scotland prepares for referendum

Coun Paul Watson.
Coun Paul Watson.
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SUNDERLAND City Council leader Paul Watson has demanded more powers for England’s cities as Scotland prepares to go to the polls on the issue of independence.

His calls come after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said more powers should be given to English regions after the Scottish referendum is complete.

Westminster politicians have pledged more powers for the Scottish Parliament is voters north of the border choose to stay part of the United Kingdom.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that would mean English regions must also be given more powers.

He said the focus in the past decade had been on devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England was “the forgotten part of the puzzle”.

Coun Watson is chairman of the Key Cities Group which represents 23 city-led councils in England. The body set out devolution for cities as one of its key policies when it was formed last summer.

In a statement responding to Mr Clegg, Coun Watson said: “As the Key Cities group we fully support more devolution for cities and local authorities in England, regardless of the outcome of the Scottish referendum.

“Whether the result of the vote this week is Yes or No, devolution is now truly up for discussion across all parties and a public debate has been ignited.

“The Key Cities Group first set down our views on devolution in our Manifesto for Growth, launched earlier this year.”

The Key Cities Group was formed in the summer of 2013 to represent 23 city-based councils from across England with a combined population of nearly seven million people.

Devolution is one of its four key policy areas, alongside the future of city centres, skills and employment, and innovative finance.

Coun Watson said the group wanted to see a shift of power away from Westminster to allow England’s cities to flourish.

He said: “We don’t believe the issue to be as black and white as North and South, yes or no.

“We have always been strong advocates for equitable devolution across the whole of England as, without devolution in its truest sense, we will continue to be limited in the scale of growth we can foster in our cities.”

Coun Watson said England has become over-centralised in its distribution of power, which city leaders feel is not helping “UK plc”.

He said: “We’ve taken the rhetoric around devolution and made sense of it for 23 Key Cities covering the length and breadth of the country through our Charter and Agenda for Devolution.

“Our Charter and Agenda sets out the what, why and how devolution should look like to Key Cities and beyond.

“As Key Cities we are eager to support the next government in achieving its devolution agenda and economic growth across the country.”

•The 23 Key Cities are: Bath, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton and Hove, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Doncaster, Hull, Kirklees, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Preston, Southampton, Southend, Stoke, Sunderland, Wakefield, Wolverhampton, York.