Pace of devolution in England leaving businesses behind | EEF

Pace of devolution in England leaving businesses behind

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Spare a thought for England's local authorities.

With less than 3 months’ notice they were told to figure out how they would like to organise themselves, to put forward an offer of a Devolution deal and to agree to a Metro Mayor.

That speed hasn't been particularly helpful in:

  • allowing local authorities to come together in a cohesive manner or
  • for them to engage meaningfully with their local business community about what devolution ‘asks’ are needed

Areas which were already working well together, will be at an advantage

Think Greater Manchester, Tees Valley and Liverpool.

Devolution discussions have been ongoing for some time, with Combined Authorities already established and the economic geography maps onto the political geography.

Conversely, areas with little history of working together have had a monumental uphill battle to get things signed off in time.

  • Witness the splintering of Yorkshire and Humber, with 6 Devolution Deals being submitted
  • Some parts of Yorkshire have rejected requests from others who want to broaden their political geography to make it map more accurately existing economic geography
  • Alongside this the Humber has been politically split three ways, leading some to ask the question - is the Humber, as an economic unit, ungovernable?

The speed of devolution in England has left little time for business engagement

The speed of devolution has also resulted in low engagement levels, particularly amongst local businesses.

Over the last 18 months, we've been talking to manufacturers and it's clear that there is a weak relationship between local authorities and manufacturers.

This is a result of a variety of factors including issues such as:

  • annual budget cycles and
  • frequent changes to programmes

Notably, these are issues that are a knock on effect from the relationship between national government and local government i.e. top down.

Businesses are crucial to the success of English devolution, they are the ones who will pay the taxes, create the jobs and provide the economic growth that will deliver the ultimate outcomes of regional devolution – higher living standards and lower public sector expenditure through higher levels of productivity.

It's clear that this relationship between local authorities and businesses needs to be repaired if devolution outcomes are to be realised.

The emerging devolution debate with each local area presents an opportunity to do just that.

In early October, we'll be publishing an overview of our conversation with manufacturers on devolution within England and our view of what needs to happen next to develop genuine partnerships between businesses and local authorities to make devolution a success.


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