New inquiry asks 'can increased devolution boost England’s cities and regions?'

12 July 2019

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has launched a new inquiry into progress on devolution in England. The inquiry will scrutinise the impact of recently agreed devolution agreements and ask if the transfer of further powers to England’s cities and regions can boost local economies and provision of public services.

Purpose of the inquiry

Since 2014, following plans announced by the Coalition Government to devolve greater powers and funding to local authorities, ten cities and regions in England have successfully negotiated bespoke devolution deals, including Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Cornwall. London gained greater devolved powers following the establishment of an assembly in 2000.
Each devolution deal involves its own arrangements for funding and increased responsibilities, but can include greater responsibility over areas including business support, planning, transport and health. London, and eight of the ten newly agreed devolution deals, established directly elected mayors to oversee the implementation of new powers.
The inquiry will examine the impact of devolving increased powers in the cities and regions where deals have been agreed, and consider how any benefits can be realised in more areas of the country. It will investigate the effectiveness of the current strategy of developing bespoke deals region by region, and ask if increasing available powers without wider systemic changes would produce similar benefits. The Committee will investigate the roles of directly elected mayors, quality of scrutiny in decision making and public accountability.
Further information on devolution in England is available in the House of Commons Library briefing Devolution to local government in England.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP commented:

“After the creation of the London Assembly there had been little development in devolution in England for over a decade. Between 2014 and 2017 a number of English cities and regions negotiated settlements allowing more powers at a local level. This flurry of activity has since slowed with little transfer of further powers, no new deals and the promised devolution framework still unpublished.
“The approach the Government has taken is to develop bespoke arrangements for different areas, both in terms of the powers devolved to them and the administrative systems to execute them. We have launched this inquiry to understand the impact of the current approach. Has tailoring devolution to each locality improved decision making, the local economy and public services?
“Most importantly, we want to discover what opportunities there are for improving outcomes across the country. Notably in areas such as transport and health where provision doesn’t match existing local government structures, but also in improving the local economy, environment and infrastructure. We will be looking to see how improved devolution can boost cities and regions, and how it can be implemented more quickly.”

Terms of reference

The Committee is inviting submissions on:
•  The success and scope of devolution deals implemented, including the impact on local economies and health economies and the progress of all bids submitted by the September 2015 deadline. 
•  The geographical spread of existing deals, including to non-metropolitan areas and the impact on adjoining areas. 
•  Further powers that local areas have accumulated over time and powers they should have which they don’t have already, including the specific case for London. 
•  The commitment to devolution across Government and capacity in Whitehall to promote and monitor devolution, including the Government’s ability to capture relevant data at the right level – for example, in city region and combined authorities to assess the effectiveness of deals. 
•  Governance and accountability: the impact of elected mayors and whether they are necessary to make devolution a success. Public engagement with the devolution process and how scrutiny is working in practice. 
•  How access to new sources of income – for example business rate growth – have impacted local areas and how broader devolution of financial powers will affect the success of the policy. 
•  The adequacy of existing sources of income and the potential need for more sources of income for local authorities that acquire more powers. Whether further business rate retention would provide additional funding for devolved services. 
•  The potential scope of a devolution framework. Whether the current practice of bespoke deals for local areas is working or should some powers be made available to any local authority that chooses to adopt them.

The deadline for written submissions is Thursday 29 August 2019

Further information

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