Briefing notes: Devolution in England

Blowing a dandillion

Briefing notes: Devolution in England

An occasional series where we publish briefing notes we’ve put together for our own internal use that we think might be useful to others. 

What does devolution in England mean?
Unlike in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the whole country or principality was given devolved powers, England is being given devolved powers at a regional and city level. There will not be an English Assembly.

What is the aim of devolution as proposed by the UK government
To support localism and decentralisation.

What will the devolved governments be called?
Combined Authorities or Mayoral Combined Authorities

How will the Combined Authorities be structured?
This will vary slightly by authority but in general the Combined Authority will be run jointly by the leaders or elected councillors from the councils who have created the authority and by a separately, fully elected mayor.

The Combined Authority will only have responsibility for the new powers devolved from the Government. The councils who make up the authority will retain their existing powers and responsibilities.

Will there be directly elected mayors?
Yes.

Will there be elected deputy mayors?
No. The mayor for the area of a combined authority must appoint one of the members of the authority to be the mayor’s deputy. I.e. this position will not be directly elected.

Will there be any other additionally elected representatives?
No, not at this time.

How does devolution occur?

  • Each area makes a proposal for devolved powers to central government led by the local area and associated local councils.
  • Central government’s role is to respond to the proposals and accept/reject requests within them.
  • This means each devolved area will have a different set of responsibilities (see below).

Areas selected for the first wave of devolution in England

Established

In process

Who is responsible for within central government?
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 as a whole.

The Cities and Local Growth Unit is made up of officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government (@CommunitiesUK) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (@beisgovuk).   

Cities and Local Growth Unit – contact details
Twitter: @hmglocalgrowth

UK Gov website of the deals and other information

What do the devolved power deals include?
All deals – devolved responsibility for substantial aspects of transport, business support and further education.

Some deals – housing and planning, employment support and health and social care.

See the LGA’s devolution register to compare the services covered by each deal.

Will there be additional funding?

£246.5 million a year alongside the devolution deals announced so far. Over time, the government intends to combine this funding with a number of other funding streams into a ‘single pot’ to enable more local control over investment decisions, and has announced £2.86 billion of initial allocations over 5 years for the first 6 mayoral devolution deals.

When will first mayoral elections for the Combined Authorities happen? 
May 2017.

Criticisms
Public Accounts Committee:

    • “not all devolution deals are coherent: they lack clear objectives; and are not aligned geographically with other policies or local bodies.”
    • Insufficient local scrutiny measures and accountability to the taxpayer (also see NAO below)
    • Effective oversight by central government.
    • “The experience of local areas in negotiating devolution deals has not been consistent with government’s intended ‘bottom up’ approach.” (page 5 point 2.)
    • Timetable v challenging
    • Uncertain that each area has the right capacity and capabilities
    • Uncertain what the implications/impact for central government departments, and their role with regards the new devolved areas

The National Audit Office concerns over accountability:

“…there are significant accountability implications arising from the deals which central government and local areas will need to develop and clarify. These include the details of how and when powers will be transferred to mayors and how they will be balanced against national parliamentary accountability. The deals agreed so far involve increasingly complex administrative and governance configurations.

And as devolution deals are new and experimental, good management and accountability both depend on appropriate and proportionate measures to understand their impact.”

Criticisms and questions addressed by government
A response by the government to each recommendation given by the Communities and Local Government Committee report on devolution.

Research links and further reading

Image credit: Kevin Labianco

Kathryn Corrick

Digital communications strategist, teacher and open data specialist with an academic background in ethics. Kathryn has been working in and around the web and its impact on civic society for over 15 years, and is particularly interested in how the use of technology and data is changing culture, society, law and democracy.

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