The Committee's inquiry set out to examine the Government's Devolution Bill and whether the Greater Manchester deal, and its health devolution agreement, was a model for other areas. However, the inquiry's scope widened to look and review the way in which devolution in England is moving ahead in other places such as the Tees Valley, Liverpool, Leeds and Cornwall.
Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:
"As a Committee, we strongly support the principle of devolution and welcome its prominent place on the Government's agenda. We believe that the current arrangements should only be a first step towards a much bigger devolution settlement and that devolution should be the default across all Government departments. If we are to achieve this local leaders and the Government must make far greater efforts to communicate with and engage the public so they embrace devolution as a positive development too. People rightly want to be involved in discussions and negotiations affecting their communities and local leaders and Government need to up their game to make the devolution process as transparent and engaging as possible.
The Secretary of State, Greg Clark, has made a big personal contribution to driving the devolution agenda forward. The Committee will return to this issue later in the Parliament and ensure that the Secretary of State and local areas are delivering on their ambitions. We will also continue to press for fiscal devolution. Our next inquiry looks at one aspect of fiscal devolution – the plans to allow local authorities to retain 100 per cent of business rates."
The Committee found a very significant lack of public consultation and engagement at all stages of the devolution process. Because devolution is not just about a transfer of power from national to local politicians, but also about local communities, we call on local leaders to engage, consult, and communicate with the public about devolution deals affecting their areas – in the preparation of proposals, during their negotiation and following agreement. Engagement shouldn't stop once a deal is done – when devolution reforms have had the chance to make an impact, the public should be consulted on their experience of how it is working in practice. The Committee also presses the Government to publish all information on devolution deals online so the public can access a range of details on the proposals, deals, and negotiations.
Ensuring that people understand exactly who is responsible and accountable for public services in their area is very important. As the figurehead, elected mayors will inevitably be held to account by the public, whether or not they actually have responsibility for the service in question. The Committee recommends the division of responsibility is determined in a way that makes sense to the public and that this is clearly spelled out in the final devolution deal.
The Committee finds that there has been a failure to set out clear, measurable objectives for devolution, rushed timetables for negotiation, and a lack of openness about deal negotiations. To improve the transparency and accountability of the process, the Committee recommends that the Government makes a clear statement that devolution will take place at different speeds in different areas and that agreed timetables are set out for the negotiation and agreement of a deal.
Current devolution deals should be the starting point, not the destination. The Committee recommends local areas should be able to acquire further devolved powers over time. Where an area asks for particular devolved powers but is refused, the Government should ensure powers are available to it if they are given to other similar areas at a later date. The Committee believes that, by the end of this Parliament, the Government and local authorities should move to a position of 'devolution by right' with the Government announcing a package of powers on offer to local government. This could be the dawn of more ambitious and wide-ranging future deals and a more comprehensive package of devolved measures agreed between Government and local government as a whole.