3 good things we learned about English regional devolution recently and 1 thing which still isn't clear

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Have no fear. Devolution is here.

Here are three things we learned about Devolution recently and one which no one seems to be talking about.

1. Transparency will be increased

There was some concern that ‘Deals’ between government and local areas would continue to be hammered out behind closed doors, this may no longer be the case.

Through the passage of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill we’ve learned:

  • Areas will need to demonstrate they have consulted with local areas on the emerging shape of a Deal
  • Deals will be put before Parliament and require a vote in both Houses of Parliament to come into force

This is important as it helps to make these Deals stick and ensures a greater level of transparency is available for businesses. In requiring Parliamentary approval this may also go some way to end initiative-itis.

2. Counties are people too

The Prime Minister has announced that Cornwall will get a County Deal (as part of the ‘Western’ Powerhouse – the Chancellor’s area of focus is the Northern Powerhouse). There are rumours of Hampshire, Leicestershire, Dorset and other areas looking at their own County Deals.

Counties will need to engage their Districts so there will be a genuine whole place solution - and don't forget Towns! Expect an announcement on that at some point soon no doubt.

Adopting County Mayors would still see significant new powers devolved, however it is unclear if this can work in practice across such large geographies – a Mayor for Cornwall, or even for Kent?

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill does however allow local government reorganisation to happen more easily. As part of 'Deals' councils can agree to become unitary authorities which may pave the way for future non-Metro Mayors.

3. Government will sense check using three things

On the grapevine, we’ve also picked up that alongside focus on the detail of Deals, government will sense check Deals based on:

  • Level of ambition – with an eye on outcomes
  • Unity across local bodies – with all relevant partners signed up
  • Clear business support – particularly LEP support

This suggests Deals won’t be signed off that don’t meet these criteria, which businesses will welcome.

4. What isn’t clear is the future role of Local Enterprise Partnerships

The Bill going through Parliament doesn't mention them, which on the face of it may not be a major worry. However, in areas that adopt a Mayor will the London model become the norm?

In London:

  • The Mayor, not a business leader, chairs the London Enterprise Panel
  • The Panel is advisory and not strategic, with the reports produced almost close to political vision than the undiluted views of London businesses
  • The Greater London Authority leads on economic development strategy

Additionally, where does this leave London?

There have been suggestions that some London Boroughs are looking to come together and create a Combined Authority. It’s unclear at this stage if that would include a Metro-Mayor and more importantly if this would strengthen or undermine the existing pan-London governance structures.

Why does this matter?

Business will be the main agents delivering the outcomes necessary for devolution to work (job creation, tax revenue increase and growth) and not the public sector.

There will need to be a strong relationship between both businesses and local actors as strategies turn into action, a relationship which can best be served by a strong business-led organisation such as a LEP.

A complete reorganisation and move away from LEPs will cause the biggest eye-roll from an already sceptical business community.

Author

Head of Business Environment Policy

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