The impact of devolution upon frontline services
At the Labour Party Conference in Brighton last month, CLES and APSE launched their report looking into ‘The impact of devolution upon frontline services’. This report set out to look at why frontline services have been absent in devolution rhetoric to date. A surprise given the ‘localise’ ethos is key to the devolution deals.
This absence is all the more serious, given how Frontline services are key to the success of many aspects of existing devolution deals; maintaining the investments in infrastructure, supporting the needs of communities in relation to housing provision and providing co-ordinated local services – parks and recreation, sport and leisure centres and the provision of school meals etc. Services which are fundamental to both economic and social development and ‘inclusive growth’.
This omission sits within a wider shift in the devolution debate, where it appears to have disappeared almost entirely from the parliamentary agenda, notable by its absence in the Queens Speech, PMQ’s, and general Whitehall effort.
While parliamentary time is set to be filled with all things Brexit between now and 2020, it is evident that local government must carry on, working hard to deliver positive outcomes for people, with or without devolved power.
Nottingham City Council is a case in point, a few years ago they were one of 19 County, District and Unitary authorities that formed part of the D2N2 devolution bid. They wanted local control, they wanted a direct line to government and they wanted extra cash, much of the finer detail (including the implications of their proposed devolution deal on frontline services) was to be worked out following ratification of the deal.
“Their dogged collaboration is a useful lesson for the many areas without a devolution deal in place.”
Sadly, the bid was hindered by complex delays and disagreements that eventually brought negotiations to a halt and made it look as though a devolution deal for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire was very unlikely. This was a blow for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire but they did not let it alter their path, they continued to develop their partnerships and work together locally with a common purpose, with or without devolution, in a coalition of the willing to achieve their shared regional objectives through their Metro Strategy. Their dogged collaboration is a useful lesson for the many areas without a devolution deal in place.
In Nottingham, and in the majority of the other authorities consulted as part of this work (APSE’s membership base), those working in frontline services are sceptical of devolution and are not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing. There is much work to be done to close the gap that exists between strategic players (typically pro-devolution) and Frontline services (typically not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing) before progressive devolution deals can be developed.
This research partly tells us what we knew. The devolution deals were flawed and missing a trick, in omitting frontline services. Moving forward we need a devolution agenda and process, which truly considers all aspects of local place, and frees up resource and powers so that local areas can forge a more positive future.