Plants are displayed in front of the Manchester Town Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband's New Deal for England will unleash local energy and vision

We cannot rely on so much of our prosperity coming from London - and it is centralisation that is holding places back.

Ed Miliband’s announcement today represents nothing less than a New Deal for England. It is the biggest devolution to cities, and county regions, in a hundred years; a radical decentralisation of control with decisions to be taken not by Whitehall but through strong local leadership.

A Labour government will pass down new powers to invest in infrastructure, such as transport and housing and more control over skills funding, with businesses having a direct say in the funding of apprenticeships. We will give city and county authorities new powers to lead on delivering the Work Programme, so that they can use their local knowledge to decide which providers will do best in getting people into a job. And we will ensure that local communities benefit directly from the proceeds of growth in their area.

In return, councils will have to work together in a local economic area, through a Combined Authority or an Economic Prosperity Board, to receive these powers. Coterminous Local Enterprise Partnerships will need to be integrated into this new governance structure to provide independent strategic advice. By bringing them together, strong political and business leadership will be able to draw up an agreed plan for the economic development of their area.

What is the significance of this?

First, it shows that Labour is serious about devolution. We will trust councils and businesses to do what they think best for their future.

Secondly, it recognises that we need a better balance of economic development across the country, and that the best way to do this is to unleash local energy and vision. As a nation we cannot rely on so much of our prosperity coming from London. Of course we need the capital to prosper, but we also need all our towns and cities to do the same to generate growth in every region.

And thirdly, it draws on the lessons of the past.

After all, it was strong local leadership that brought prosperity to so many of our great towns, cities and communities. Look back at how those communities grew and succeeded, how local industries thrived and created jobs, how disease was tackled and poverty fought, and how the slums that scarred our land were cleared. It was civic pride, collective endeavour, economic vision and social conscience that brought gas, electricity and clean water to people’s homes and built the houses, schools, hospitals, libraries, and the parks that changed people’s lives. Our forebears did not wait for a missive from Mr Gladstone or Mr Disraeli telling them what they should be doing. They looked around them, saw what was required and then got on with it.

And that’s why we should take inspiration from this history and push power down because it is centralisation that is holding places back. Devolving power and decision-making will allow local economic vision to emerge, helping businesses to become more productive, profitable and competitive. Ultimately, we cannot hope to tackle the root causes of the cost of living crisis unless we earn our way out of it.

David Cameron simply doesn’t get this. The Heseltine Review proposed a major devolution of power, but the government ignored it. It falls to Labour to show that we have listened and heard what local councils and businesses have said to us: "Give us the tools, and we will do the job". And that is exactly what we will do.

Hilary Benn is shadow foreign secretary, and Labour MP for Leeds Central.

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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