Starmer Vows to Loosen Whitehall’s ‘Tight Grip’ on Cities and Regions

The prime minister met with England’s elected mayors in Downing Street to ‘agree early actions needed to scale up devolution and empower regions.’
Starmer Vows to Loosen Whitehall’s ‘Tight Grip’ on Cities and Regions
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer and Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner meet with English regional mayors at 10 Downing Street in Westminster, central London, on July 9, 2024. (Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA Wire)
Guy Birchall

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer has promised to loosen Whitehall’s “tight grip” over Britain’s big cities and regions as he met with the England’s mayors at Number 10 on Tuesday.

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

He said, “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.”

During the meeting he told the mayors: “I know many of you already have growth plans in place—some of you have shared them and that is fantastic. What we want to do is build on that with a real partnership where you feel that the government is up alongside you, supporting what you’re doing.”

The prime minister added: “I think it’s the first meeting like this in Downing Street.

“I don’t think all the metro mayors have come together in Downing Street like this, so this is a first and that’s good.”

The meeting was attended in person by 11 mayors from across England, however Mayor of South Yorkshire Oliver Coppard was absent owing to illness.

Among them were the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, West Midlands Metro Mayor Richard Parker, Mayor of the West of England Dan Norris, Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, and Tees Valley Mayor Lord Ben Houchen.

All apart from Lord Houchen are members of the Labour Party.

‘Tightly Gripped Control’

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.”

Ms. Rayner also confirmed the scrapping of the phrase “levelling up” from the title of the department she oversees, renaming it the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government.

After the meeting, the mayors were driven in an electric London bus from Downing Street to the Palestra building in Southwark for a follow-up meeting.

All those who attended the meeting with Sir Kier were aboard the bus, apart from Lord Houchen.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has 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 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.”

The new prime minister ended a UK tour with the meeting with the mayors and would later fly across the Atlantic to begin his international duties at the NATO summit in Washington, D.C.

Over the weekend, Sir Keir visited the devolved administrations across Britain, spending Sunday in Scotland, where he met SNP First Minister John Swinney.

The following day, 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.

PA Media contributed to this report.
Guy Birchall is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories with a particular interest in freedom of expression and social issues.