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Devolution's disappearing act

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LGC’s commentary on the autumn statement’s implications for devolution

What wasn’t in chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn statement is turning out in some ways to be more interesting than what was in it.

While not completely omitted from the autumn statement in the way social care was, devolution was far from the centrepiece either.

Some low-key announcements and loose commitments in relation to London, Greater Manchester, and the West Midlands aside, there were no new devolution deals for Mr Hammond to trumpet.

LGC reported today that a lack of capacity among ministers and civil servants at the Department for Communities & Local Government has been blamed for that.

By attempting (and ultimately failing) to prevent the doomed devolution deals for Greater Lincolnshire and Norfolk and Suffolk from falling apart, and concentrating on ensuring the West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough agreements went through, there has been precious little time for other areas to get a look-in.

Lincolnshire CC’s leader Martin Hill (Con) confirmed in a statement this week that Mr Javid had withdrawn Greater Lincolnshire’s deal. Justifying the region’s stance Cllr Hill said there was “little appetite for an elected mayor”, adding that the deal “fell some way short of genuine devolution”.

This may well be true but for those who have taken a leap of faith and secured mayoral devolution deals they will now benefit from the fact their combined authorities can now borrow in relation to all of their functions, not just transport as at present.

In addition to that, the £1.8bn local growth fund allocations, to be announced “shortly” according to Mr Hammond, look as though they will favour areas playing ball on devolution.

So much for building an economy that works for everyone…

The autumn statement was the first major fiscal event this new administration had to set out its vision.

While Mr Hammond yesterday declared “devolution remains at the heart of this government’s approach to supporting local growth” his own supporting documents somewhat disagreed.

The ‘d’ word appeared just eight times in the main autumn statement document accompanying Mr Hammond’s speech, whereas it was referenced 34 times in predecessor George Osborne’s main paper this time last year.

Devolution became inextricably linked to the former chancellor so perhaps it’s somewhat fitting that this policy, like Mr Osborne, could now be resigned to a period on the backbenches.

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