The ‘devolution revolution’ cometh: post Spending Review analysis

The face of UK politics is changing dramatically. In 18 months’ time there will be at least five elected Northern Mayors representing 54% of the population of the north.

In just three months, Interim Mayors for Merseyside, the North East, Tees Valley, South Yorkshire and the West Midlands will join Tony Lloyd, who is already in place in Greater Manchester.

Each Interim Mayor will have their hands on new policy levers and new funding; from transport to police, planning to skills, housing to economic development. The Devo-Mayors will become de facto local leaders and called to account by the public and the media, just like the Mayor of London. The devolution revolution is happening, so what do you need to know about the Northern Powerhouse following the Spending Review?

1. The Chancellor is serious about the Northern Powerhouse. He announced £13 billion for transport in the north, along with plans for a Great Exhibition of the North to be led by Tour de France in Yorkshire supremo Sir Gary Verity. There is also a major Local Growth Fund and numerous other sums including for two agricultural technology centres in York and for Hull to create a legacy after its time as UK City of Culture in 2017. This devolution is therefore not to be dismissed as “delegating the cuts”. That would miss a number of points most notably the pent up frustration of mostly Labour councils who want, arguably need, a bigger canvas. They also get money – for example in Merseyside £30 million per year with no strings attached – which is very attractive in these cash strapped times.

2. There is a problem in Greater Yorkshire where no deal has been announced. Leeds City region’s ambitions have been stymied by a combination of reluctance by the county council to allow districts to join in (although there are strong rumours that an amendment to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill might resolve this) and Hull, who have fought a rear-guard action to stop being left out in the cold, isolated from the economic growth centred on Leeds. Will North, East and West Yorkshire yet emerge as a proposition – attractive to many Conservatives because this could be one northern area where, with South Yorks out of the equation as it has its own deal, the Conservatives could actually win the election for Mayor? But of course West Yorkshire effectively has a veto (as long as they stay united) so it will be really interesting to watch how the the current Yorkshire impasse is resolved.

3. Councils are more wary about accepting responsibility for health than other issues such as transport and economic development. Control over health services was only in 12 of the 38 devolution deals submitted, and so far only Manchester and Cornwall have agreed to these powers in their deals. Of course, in Greater Manchester the plans are very ambitious – the partnership board chaired by Lord Smith brings together a massive 37 different statutory bodies and the overall combined budget of the 12 CCGs and ten Local Authorities totals £6 billion. Many councils are clearly adopting a wait-and-see approach. Cornwall County Council is the exception, but when you look at the fine print of their deal agreed in July, it says it will “Co-design a business plan for re-shaping the whole system” so its significance is far more limited than the one in Greater Manchester. But ultimately health will be part of the devolution package.

4. This is the start not the end of a “devolution revolution”. More deals are to be agreed not just for areas not covered but in those places where deals have already been announced where they will now go deeper and further. The Devo Manc deal is foreshadowed with a reference to a new power for the Mayor to introduce a Community Infrastructure Levy and “an integrated approach to preventative services for children”.

The Devolution Revolution is a fast moving agenda. There are also emerging discussions regards a council or assembly of the North, encouraged by the Chancellor’s announcement that Transport for the North will be put on a statutory footing by 2017. Now is the time to get ready for devolution revolution.

To find out more please contact the Connect Devo team including for information about our devolution training session on Thursday 18th February 2016.

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