The results are in, and the verdict is… good, but could do better

This week the powerful Communities and Local Government Select Committee published its findings Devolution: the next five years and beyond after hearing evidence from a range of key devolution players including the interim Manchester mayor Tony Lloyd, Liverpool’s mighty mayor Joe Anderson, London’s Sir Eddie Lister, and Devo Minister James Wharton. What was the Committee’s verdict on the success of the Government’s devolution plans?

On balance devolution is seen as a good thing and the Committee supports the devolution revolution thus far but they also think proposals have lacked rigour with no clear, measurable objectives or timetables.

The Committee was critical of the Government over the “very significant lack of public consultation and engagement” for devolution deals. This has been a common theme and most think the pace of devolution rushed many cities and areas into striking a devo deal. The Government has a serious challenge ahead if it is to engage the public to vote for devolution. The Committee calls upon the Government to publish all devolution information online so the public can access the proposals, deals, and negotiations directly. This is a step in the right direction but will it be enough? Probably not – but once the selection process for mayors kicks in, each campaign will need to think hard about how to engage with voters and how they are going to pitch themselves to win. A repeat of public apathy, as seen in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, would be a disaster for George Osborne.

Another potential problem for Osborne lies around future governance and devolved accountability. How will devolution works and who will really be given greater decision making and influencing powers? A lot more work needs to be done here, as it is currently unclear where the division of responsibilities lie between elected mayors, councils and local leaders. One of the most complicated things for voters to get their heads around will be who is in charge of running which bits of their local services. There is potential for a lot of confusion here. If a contract goes wrong, or an individual council doesn’t perform, will local people know who is responsible? In different areas of the country it is very possible that different arrangements will exist so clarity is needed otherwise devolution could easily be dismissed by the public as just another layer of bureaucracy and not devolved power.

If devolution is to work the Committee felt that local areas should – over time – be able to acquire further devolved powers and that the Government and local authorities should move to a position of ‘devolution by right’. If this recommendation is embraced it could lead to a whole range of further devo deals being struck all over England. Councils interested in the opportunity will need to watch this space.

The Committee is clear that there is a lot of work still to do and the Government will, in the words of the Committee’s Chair Clive Betts MP, “need to up their game”.

Read this week’s full devointelligence update online here.

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