Devolution ‘failing’ to address national problems

Devolution in the UK is failing to address the country’s pressing political, social and economic problems, according to a report.

The Real Deal: Pushing the parameters of devolution explores the current state of devolution in the UK, and urges local authorities to seize the opportunity to forge a distinctive economic and social future.

It puts forward 11 proposals in areas including employment policy, transport, energy and environmental policy, housing and land use, health and procurement.

The paper was published in collaboration between the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI).

The authors claim that the recent vote to leave the European Union represents an opportunity to rethink central-local relations in the UK, and urged Theresa May’s new government to reset the devolution agenda.

There was now a chance to roll back “oppressive centralisation” whereby local and combined authorities would be able to forge a distinct economic and social destiny.

However, the report warned that when the UK leaves the EU, many local areas will lose a substantial chunk of European structural and investment funding, which the government had yet to confirm it will replace.

Also, the fact that the Leave vote was strongly backed in regions that benefit most from European funding, is evidence that voters want to exercise control within their own communities, authors said.

Craig Berry, deputy director of SPERI, suggested the devolution agenda take advantage of the recent political upheaval. He said: “As a new government takes office this is a valuable opportunity to reset the devolution agenda in the UK.

“Crucially, devolution away from the centre cannot succeed without reform at the centre. The referendum result is a wake-up call to urgently reconsider the UK’s governance structures”.

He added that this would “require forging a genuine constitutional settlement for centre-local relations”.

In the report, the authors suggest devolution can help to address the economic imbalance that is currently skewed in favour of the financial sector and retail. Redressing the balance of power between central government and regional and local authorities, they said, could offer the context within which a “new industrial future” could be built that involved manufacturing and the creative industries.

The report also argued that devolution allow local power centres to transform public services and offer innovative forms of social inclusion and mobility.

Neil McInroy, chief executive of CLES, said: “It is increasingly clear that present devolution… is flawed. While the deals have started to reverse some of the problems of over-centralisation, devolution has been too constrained by the Treasury’s economic and social model, and cowed by the ongoing austerity, in which the poorest areas have suffered the most.”

The original article can be read on the Public Finance website here