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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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.