Devolution Offer for English Cities

By Rowan Williams
  • Manchester to lead way in local devolution
  • – Factional fighting erupts in Burundi
  • – Modi begins China visit


English cities are to receive greater devolved local powers, under plans to be unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne on Thursday. In Osborne’s first post-election speech, the Chancellor will offer cities powers over housing, transport, planning and policing. Cities will also be allowed to elect a mayor. Plans will be assembled into a Cities Devolution Bill, to be included in the Queen’s speech later this month. Greater Manchester will be the first city to be given devolved powers, with the city becoming a blueprint for others. Manchester has already been given control of its £6 billion healthcare budget. In his speech in Manchester, Osborne will criticise the centralised administration of Britain from London, which he will claim has unbalanced the economy. Osborne will also reiterate the government’s commitment to further devolution for Scotland and Wales. In England, only cities that elect their own mayor will be eligible for devolution of powers. It is hoped that further devolution can increase economic activity in the north of England – but could also allow for a greater Conservative Party presence in England’s north, an area that has generally favoured the Labour Party.

In Burundi, heavy fighting has erupted between rival groups of soldiers, after confusion over the success of an attempted coup in the country. Fighting between soldiers vying for control in the capital of Bujumbura has raised fears of a longer, protracted struggle in the city. Several buildings have been set ablaze, including those of media outlets. Unrest began in Burundi several weeks ago when the country’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced he would run for a third term. Opponents said a third term was unconstitutional, with a coup launched during a presidential visit to Tanzania. Nkurunziza remains in Tanzania, and claims that the coup has been foiled. Claims from presidential military allies that the coup has ended have been contradicted by coup leaders. Security services now appear to have divided into pro- and anti-Nkurunziza factions. Fighting has concentrated on gaining control of radio and television stations, as well as the capital’s airport.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun a three-day visit to China. China and India are expected to sign deals worth billions of dollars during Modi’s visit, though relations between the countries remain strained over a border dispute. Modi will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Xi’an – an area known as one of Xi Jinping’s power bases – before travelling on to Beijing and Shanghai. In his 2014 visit to India, President Xi first visited Modi in his home town in Gujarat state. Modi’s reciprocation is seen as an attempt between the two countries to improve ties. Business deals to be signed off between the two countries are said to include sales of Chinese trains and nuclear power to stations to India, and sales of Indian pharmaceuticals and IT services to China.

The Papers

Newly released letters between Prince Charles and government ministers make most headlines today. The Guardian, responsible for the release of the letters, writes in its headline that “After 10 years, the secret of a persistent, demanding prince is finally out”. “Ministers spent £400,000 trying to keep memos secret” in the courts over ten years, the paper writes, with Charles lobbying ministers on issues relating to “farmers, army and herbal medicines”. The Times leads with news that Charles “lobbied Blair to alter health policy”. His letters reveal the “scale of prince’s influence”, the paper claims. The paper focuses on Charles’ successful lobbying to delay British implementation of EU laws on alternative medicine, giving UK suppliers time to have their ingredients licensed. The Daily Telegraph focuses on military issues raised by Charles, reporting that “Blair admitted defence failings” to the prince during the Iraq War. Charles expressed “concern for Britain’s armed forces” during the conflict over equipment issues, particularly over problems with the Lynx helicopter – problems the Prime Minister acknowledged. Current Prime Minister David Cameron makes the headlines in The Independent, meanwhile, with the paper reporting that Cameron has walked into a “human rights minefield”. Plans to scrap the Human Rights Act risk a “backbench revolt”, while the UK faces “diplomatic isolation” for its desire to ‘pick and choose’ European Court of Human Rights rulings. The Financial Times leads with news that Saudi Arabia has seen success in its “fight to retain dominance of global oil”. Its strategy of flooding the market with cheap crude has deterred rivals from shale fracking and deep-sea oil exploration.

British Media on China

On Sino-US relations: US concerns over Chinese actions in the South China Sea have received coverage from a few UK media outlets. The Guardian reports that China has urged the US to show “caution” over disputes in the region. The paper writes of “growing tensions in recent months over China’s aggressive land reclamation” efforts. Raising pressure on China could risk a military confrontation and “could encourage Beijing to speed up building work even more”, the paper reports. The Daily Telegraph’s agency piece on the story writes that the US fears China’s actions “could affect freedom of trade”.

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