Then I made my way to Scarborough for the Yorkshire & Humber Cooperative Party conference on the subject of speaking up for the North. There was an excellent analytical speech by Councillor James Alexander on how the lack of the sort of local powers that exist for local government in other European countries is holding back aspects of local and regional economic development in England. Much interest about how things work in other European countries, and comparisons with Germany where its devolved government means Berlin doesn’t dominate the whole country in the way London dominates the UK politically, economically, culturally and in terms of the media. Germany’s more balanced economic development, including other economic powerhouses such as Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne and so on, increases prosperity and spreads it more evenly.
Much support in the debate for what in the jargon is called the ‘principle of subsidiarity’: that governance should be as decentralised as possible and only centralised where necessary. As far as the EU is concerned, that principle is enshrined in the treaty. As a result, we only do at European level what member countries agree to handle jointly. (That’s why the EU accounts for only about 2% of public expenditure, and is at the origin of only about 9% of legislation.) But subsidiarity is not a principle applied at national level in highly-centralised countries such as Britain, other than what’s devolved to Scotland and Wales. English regional government does not exist, and local government is a patchwork of weakened and differently-organised authorities. “Whitehall knows best” is the attitude the British government takes towards local government — just as it is to Europe.