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Tue, 20 October 2020

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EXCL Ministers accused of 'ignoring' rest of UK as Londoners dominate New Year honours

EXCL Ministers accused of 'ignoring' rest of UK as Londoners dominate New Year honours
5 min read

Ministers are facing renewed calls to overhaul the honours system as new figures revealed that a quarter of all New Year's gongs were handed out to people living in London.


Fresh data from the Government shows that the New Year's Honours list - billed as recognising the achievements of a "wide range of extraordinary people across the United Kingdom" - was disproportionately dominated by the capital, while other parts of the country were under-represented.

Labour pounced on the figures to accuse ministers of leaving the rest of the country "held back and ignored" when handing out knighthoods and other titles, while campaigners said it showed Britain remained "one of the most centralised countries in Europe".

But the Cabinet Office, which oversees the independent Honours Committee that vets nominations, said it was working to boost awareness of the system in a bid to encourage a wider range of nominations.

The figures show that 275 Londoners were awarded honours in the 2020 list, making up 25% of the total. That comes despite London representing just 12.9% of the UK population.

By contrast, people from the East Midlands, which saw 36 recipients, made up just 3.3% of the list, despite its population representing 7.2% of the UK total.

The North East of England also saw fewer awards handed out than might be expected for its population size, with just 24 doled out - the lowest number in the country.

That represents 2.2% of the overall honours list, even though the North East makes up 4.1% of the British population.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett claimed the figures were "yet more evidence that so many decision-makers in Westminster can barely see beyond the end of their nose".

He told PoliticsHome: "There is another country outside of London, full of talented and hard-working people. Surely they deserve the same recognition as those in the capital and the South East?

"The time is absolutely ripe to change the way this country works, and we need to give greater recognition and power to those parts of England long held back and ignored."

'BLIND TO THE MIDLANDS'

The Cabinet Office data also shows that the West Midlands - where Boris Johnson launched his election campaign - saw a disproportionately low number of awards.

While the region represents 8.9% of the UK population, it saw just 59 gongs given out - making up 5.4% of the overall honours list.

Liam Byrne, the MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill in the West Midlands, hit out at that finding, which follows separate controversy over the decision to reward former welfare secretary Sir Iain Duncan Smith with a knighthood.

"It seems this new Tory government is just as blind to the Midlands as its predecessor," Mr Byrne told PoliticsHome.

"The West Midlands is home to a network of selfless volunteers, a coalition of kindness, that does so much to help those left behind by austerity.

"They support those made homeless, feed families hit by universal credit and run youth clubs when government funding dries up. They're the ones who deserve to be honoured, not the architects of austerity like Iain Duncan Smith."

Under existing honours rules, anyone can nominate anyone else for an award if they have "made achievements in public life" or "committed themselves to serving and helping Britain".

The awards are then decided by an independent honours committee - which vets the appointments before sending a list to Downing Street for final sign off.

The Cabinet Office told PoliticsHome it was working to improve diversity in the list and encourage more people outside of the capital to make a nomination.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Oliver Dowden said: "Through Honours we recognise the extraordinary contribution that individuals make to our nation, and we should have fair representation across the country and from different backgrounds. This Government has set a clear intention to level up across the UK and we will deliver on our promise."

A 'Diversity and Inclusion Group' has been in place since 2014 to try and increase the diversity of the UK honours system and end the disparity between regions, officials said, with a series of regional events held across the country to try to promote the nominations process.

But the figures - released in response to a parliamentary question by Lord Blunkett - were seized on by campaigners from the Electoral Reform Society.

"Britain is one of the most centralised countries in Europe, so these findings are sadly no surprise," spokeserson Jess Blair said.

She added: "The peerage system is similarly warped - 45% of Lords are in London and the South East. But unlike New Year's Honours, these people vote on our laws for life.

"These problems won't be resolved through tokenistic tinkering. It's time to empower the whole UK, reforming the whole broken Westminster set up at last."

NATIONAL BREAKDOWN

The data also sheds light on the number of honours made in the other nations of the UK, with 89 awarded in Scotland, or 8.1% of the total. That was just under the 8.4% of the UK population that Scots represent.

Wales was also under-represented, according to the stats, with 42 recipients across the country making up 3.8% of the total, despite Wales making up 4.8% of the population.

By contrast, Northern Ireland saw many more titles awarded than might have been expected for its population size. There were 94 honours handed out to those living in Northern Ireland, representing 8.6% of the total list. Northern Ireland's population makes up 2.9% of the UK total.

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