The government’s devolution drive has “stalled” and “lost momentum” and it needs to provide clarity regarding the purpose, process and timescale future deals, according to thinktank IPPR North.
Deals to date lacked ambition and showed “the limitations of the government’s vision”, and IPPR North urged the government to make clear its red-line issues “specifically on the pressing issues of geography and governance models”.
In a report published today, Rebooting Devolution: A common sense approach to taking back control, IPPR North argues that devolution to non-metropolitan areas should be based around the existing county geographies and added there was a “strong argument” for unitarisation.
IPPR North suggested the Department for Communities & Local Government and the Treasury should offer councils a framework for devolution based on a series of stages that would allow for local areas to take on further powers in return for measures to further improve their governance.
At the first stage, councils would take on powers over skills and economic development in exchange for more council-led scrutiny.
IPPR North also proposed areas taking on all parts of schooling, health and tax revenues in return for “significant changes to local democratic structures, which could include a second chamber of business and community interests” and introducing proportional representation in local elections.
Jack Hunter, report author and IPPR North researcher, said: “The government is right to avoid a one-size-fits-all solution but it does need to give council leaders confidence in its continued commitment to this vital agenda, by putting devolution at the heart of its industrial strategy.
“To date, discussions around devolution have been conducted in secret and according to a set of unknown criteria. By providing greater clarity about its underlying principles, government can reboot the devolution process and put the onus firmly on local leaders to work creatively to develop governance solutions that work for their area.”
Paul Carter, chair of the County Councils Network, said counties’ ambition for devolution deals “has never diminished” and added the industrial strategy was “the perfect opportunity to move to the next stage of devolution”. He welcomed IPPR North’s support for unitaries and pointed to research commissioned by CCN which suggested county-wide unitary councils in current two-tier areas could save up to £2.9bn nationally over five years.