A new frontier: devolution dealings
21 April 2016, News
As the local, PPC, London, Welsh and Scottish elections are forecast to take the UK by storm in the next two weeks it’s easy to lose sight of what’s on the horizon. No not Brexit (although we’ll be waxing lyrical about our inners and our outers very soon), this focus is on the devolution carrot which is being dangled in front of ten English regions.
The opportunity, it seems, is huge and it rubber stamps the government’s commitment to localism once and for all. But sat here in the West of England today it’s easy to feel that more detail into these great growth deals and economic boosters is needed.
With all the current political and European distractions these regions could sleep-walk themselves into the UK’s largest social experiment.
Here is what we currently DO know:
HM Treasury and the Cities and Local Growth Unit are responsible for managing the negotiation, agreement and implementation of devolution deals on behalf of central government. Across all the deals, devolved responsibilities include: transport, SME support, further education, housing and planning, employment support and health and social care.
And we’re talking BIG money:
Additional investment funding of £246.5 million a year has been promised to support the devolution deals and talks of streamlining this funding to enable further local control on investment are making noise in the debate. To top this off, in the Spring Budget £2.86 billion was earmarked over 5 years for the first 6 mayoral devolution deals.
So, what don’t we know?
It’s clear that the Chancellor believes devolution proposals should be led by local areas, and that central government’s role should be to help agree the terms of the devolution settlement, confirm the funding arrangements and then let local areas get on with it. Consequently, there is no clear statement of what devolution sets out to achieve or how success will be measured.
What we don’t understand is accountability – how and when will powers be transferred to mayors and how they will be balanced against national parliamentary accountability? This matters as fundamentally we are talking about billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at stake.
You don’t meet many people who aren’t in favour of more local control but the time to get beyond the headlines and delve into the details is looming.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, sums it up nicely:
“Despite several iterations of deals, the government’s approach to English devolution still has an air of charting undiscovered territory. It is in explorer mode, drawing the map as it goes along. Some of the opportunities and obstacles are becoming clearer, but we still do not have a clear view of the landscape or, crucially, an idea of the destination.”