As Scotland looks set to receive an ‘unprecedented’ collection of powers from Westminster, it is time too for the English regions to benefit from devolution. The lack of what Hayek would call ‘perfect information’ is a weakness intrinsic to a centralised states – surely local councils have a greater understanding of problems that face their local areas than Whitehall? As one of the most centralised states in the world, the UK is ripe for devolution in a variety of policy areas.
One such example is taxation. Rather than simply being bankrolled by central government, local authorities should be able to raise their own revenue. This would encourage greater fiscal responsibility from councils, as they would have to justify spending to their electorate, discouraging the waste that has been all too characteristic of local government.
Another possible area of devolution is healthcare: councils should be free to innovate in response to local problems. The savings that this would result in would contribute to the £22 billion of efficiencies in the NHS that Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, has highlighted as necessary by 2020-21. Furthermore, patient satisfaction will improve: the Institute of Economic Affairs has pointed to Switzerland’s decentralised healthcare system, which provides a responsive service with high life expectancy and patient approval ratings.
Having greater powers would also give councils more clout when they bid for major infrastructure projects. London has reaped the fruits of much central government support, with the Greater London Authority securing £4.7 billion from the Department of Transport to fund Crossrail. If all councils had the same bidding powers, government spending would more effectively match the infrastructure needs of the local area – instead of grandiose projects such as HS2, more Crossrails could be built, creating the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ that George Osborne strives for.
How will this devolution create a freer UK? Firstly, councils being forced to raise their own money deters excessive spending, lest councillors be punished by the local electorate who are paying for it. Secondly, healthcare efficiencies mean a smaller burden on the taxpayer to pay for the NHS, while the patient will likely be more satisfied with a service suited for local needs. Finally, this devolution will result in more focussed, efficient infrastructure spending. In short, ‘super-councils’ can reduce the burden on the taxpayer, and create the conditions for a flourishing free market.
Alan Petri is runner-up in the Under-18 category of the ASI’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition 2015.