Number 10 pledges to loosen Whitehall’s ‘tight grip’ over cities and regions

The Prime Minister and his deputy have pledged to loosen Whitehall’s “tight grip” over big cities and regions ahead of a meeting with mayors in Downing Street.

Sir Keir Starmer will cap off his round-the-UK tour with the roundtable before flying to Washington DC on Tuesday, where he is set to make his world stage debut at the Nato summit.

According to a Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities statement, Sir Keir and the mayors will “come together to discuss a new partnership approach and agree early actions needed to scale up devolution and empower regions to deliver change for their communities”.

Voters in some large cities in England elect mayors with regional responsibilities.

Among them are Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, Metro Mayor of the West Midlands Richard Parker, Mayor of the West of England (including Bristol and Bath) Dan Norris, and Mayor of the Tees Valley Ben Houchen.

Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner said: “For too long a Westminster government has tightly gripped control and held back opportunities and potential for towns, cities and villages across the UK.

“That’s meant misguided decisions devastating the lives of working people, while our elected local leaders are forced to beg for scraps at the whim of Whitehall.

“It’s time to take back control, and this new government is focused on setting that potential free, with a full reset of our relationship with local government.

“All of this starts with proper, grown up conversations with our regional Mayors, to make changes that help them deliver local economic growth with better housing, education and jobs for local people.”

Sir Keir said he had “made it a priority to meet with all metro mayors” in his first week of office.

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer speaks at a lectern in front of a Union Flag
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer (Claudia Greco/PA)

“By resetting these crucial relationships and putting more power in the hands of local leaders, I’m determined to make sure they have the support they need to play their part in delivering economic growth in every part of the country,” he said.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has previously warned of a combined funding gap of more than £6 billion over the next two years in the local authority sector.

After the General Election result last week, LGA chair Louise Gittins said: “It is important we find a sustainable and long-term financial solution, alongside the right powers and levers, so we can deliver on the priorities of the new government.”

She also said: “We are entering a period of huge change but also opportunity and my immediate priority is working with the new government on a fundamental reset of the relationship between central and local government, one of trust and mutual respect.”

Sir Keir has turned his attention to devolution over the weekend, having spent Sunday in Scotland, where he met SNP First Minister John Swinney.

Sir Keir Starmer’s tour of the UK
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer at Bute House, Edinburgh, with Scottish First Minister John Swinney (Scott Heppell/PA)

On Monday, he met political leaders at Stormont in Northern Ireland and The Senedd in Wales, including the nations’ first ministers, Michelle O’Neill and Vaughan Gething.

Before the whistlestop tour, Sir Keir said his appearances would signal his ambition to “push power and resource out of Whitehall”.

US President Joe Biden is expected to host Sir Keir at the White House later this week, a move which Mr Biden’s press secretary said will “underscore the importance of continuing to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.”