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Authorities admit to "weak" devolution plans

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One in five senior local government figures believe their devolution proposals are fairly or very weak, new research reveals.

The research,by think-tank Localis and accounting organisation Grant Thornton, also suggest that one in seven have found conversations with neighbouring authorities over combined authority proposals to be unconstructive or very unconstructive.

By comparison, their report, based on research including a survey of 176 local authority chief executives, leaders and cabinet members, between July and September, reveals that 60%of respondents think their devolution proposals are fairly or very robust, and two-thirds believe discussions over collaborating with neighbouring authorities have progressed positively.

Seventy-two per cent say their conversations with central government are constructive or very constructive.

The report, ‘Making devolution work: A practical guide for local leaders,’ reveals that if the government had not prioritised collaboration between authorities by asking for devolution bids, more than half of those surveyed (59%) would not have looked to negotiate a deal on their own.

It offers 10 key findings from research into the local devolution talks that took place over the summer. These include the suggestion that much early discussion has focused on governance structures rather than outcomes.

“In particular, the challenges of establishing a combined authority/mayor have sometimes dominated local discussions to the detriment of their progress,” the report notes. “Proposed improvements to residents’ lives should come first; governance second.”

The report also reveals that many places are failing to demonstrate trust and a “’unity of purpose’ across participating organisations”, which, it says, is key in giving the government confidence to devolve powers. Being willing to accept a combined authority or directly-elected mayor means areas are more likely to receive substantial powers, it adds.

Though some within local government accept the accountability argument and are ‘biting the bullet’, others are ignoring it, and this is seen to be unrealistic by Whitehall insiders,” the report states.

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