Devolution in England: understanding Scotland’s place competitiveness

A project delivered for Skills Development Scotland in 2018

This project reviewed progress in local devolution in England, and brainstormed some of the potential consequences for Scotland’s economy and governance in the future.

The project involved a review of local and city economic development and regeneration policy and progress since 2010, and reviewing devolution progress in each city region and combined authority. Economic analysis was conducted to compare Scotland’s economic performance over the past five years, to the Combined Authority areas and London.

Progress in devolution in England has been swift over the past eight years. Whilst the approach in England might, quite rightfully, be seen as fitful, partial and diverse – it does signal a step change in the governance of public policy. This change has occurred relatively quickly, since 2010.

London’s devolution arrangements have succeeded, and London is now a leader in policy development for the devolution of tax and finance to a UK region.

Unlike the well-structured and planned approach taken to devolution in Scotland, the process of local devolution has been iterative, partial, and the result of broad government intent married with local ambitions and politics. We are now at the stage, where some localities, including England’s largest city regions, have formal devolved, democratically accountable institutions. There are currently nine Combined Authorities within England, and a devolved Greater London government. Each has an elected Mayor, and executive functions and resources. The exact nature of devolution, resources and powers differs between Combined Authorities.

Whilst progress has been interesting – the devolution process has stalled in England. There are currently nine Combined Authorities, with one of them, the North East, stalled and plans for a North of Tyne Combined Authority instead. Other attempts, such as a Norfolk and Suffolk Combined Authority, have been rejected. It is proving difficult, particularly in rural areas, to proceed with Combined Authorities. This may indicate that beyond metropolitan regions, it may not be an appropriate vehicle for devolution. Proposals for local business rates receipts to go directly to local authorities have not been delivered.

However, Whitehall may be unable to prevent further progress in Devolution. The process in England has seriously energized civic leadership, local debate and business leadership.