DevoComment: Something or nothing?

Things are starting to get lively on the Devo front! A rash of star studded conferences and events are now on the fixture list and we have already seen one major Devo deal being struck in 2016: a deal which will see Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire work together under one elected Mayor for the North Midlands (not East Midlands!). What’s next? Where’s next? Watch this space!

Meanwhile the debate continues about what the so called devolution revolution really means; is it something or nothing?  We know that:

1. It will transform local governance.  The arrival of elected mayors for city regions across the North and Midlands will massively change politics, decision making and accountability

2.  There will be new funds and powers in new hands. And this means added impetus to local government reform such that all local authorities will in the end need to adapt or die

3.  Devolution has triggered a massive competition between cities, regions, sub regions and authorities. It’s a game of “deal or no deal” with some being left behind and others forging ahead playing to win

So it is definitely something and not nothing but there is still everything to play for both in terms of making devolution deeper as well as more widespread.   Only those wearing rose or even Devo-tinted glasses would have failed to hear the many Devo-sceptic voices out there. These include the opposition who look set to embrace the fiscal powers debate and in the process make their critical approach a little more constructive. The voluntary, charity, social enterprise  and co-operative sector are also understandably increasingly restless about their non-invitation to the devo party. Others argue what is really being devolved is more risk than reward.

devointelligence will carry guest blogs on all these issues in forthcoming weeks but even if this is a ‘slow train coming’ it certainly has pulled out of the station and it looks now set to keep rolling along.  It may even force George Osborne’s hand because he has a personal stake in the Powerhouse initiative succeeding – not just for the sake of economic growth but to help him become the next leader of the Conservative Party.  He will therefore have to accommodate Leeds City region, which is the largest city economy outside London – without it the Northern Powerhouse will simply look like Northern hot air.   And ultimately the Government will need to allow and prepare for deeper devolution to happen.

One thing is sure: devo deals and devo politics will continue to make 2016 interesting.

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Lora Shopova