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Budget 2023 - English regional devolution

Mike McCartney

15th March 2023

There's a quiet revolution going on in the English regions

What has slipped under the radar of a lot of people, and something to watch out for in Jeremy Hunt's budget, are further plans to extend the scope (both in territory and in powers) of devolution in the English regions. As reported in the Times yesterday.

A quick reminder of the arguments related to this part of the UK's constitutional landscape...

These can be considered as the arguments in favour of English regional devolution

  • It is much more efficient to have the regions concerned with policy delivery involved in the formulation of policy,
  • On a related note, this would additionally this would relieve the burden on central government.
  • Evidence from the Celtic arenas suggests that there are clear benefits to bringing the government closer to the people since policies can be designed to fit the needs of the people in different regions
  • The governmental structures we have now are in need of remodelling: local government was designed to fit the needs of the mid-nineteenth century and central government expanded in the middle of the twentieth to meet the demands of that time.
  • Since the (unelected) Regional Development Agencies were scrapped in 2012 there is a lack of strategic co-ordination across many regions (except London, and Greater Manchester for example) with regards to economic development, regeneration, plans to boost employment, and so forth.
  • It would provide a counter-point to London-centricism; it is difficult to think of another polity that is so dominated economically and politically by its nation’s biggest city.
  • The regions in England need to have a platform that will give their area a voice enabling them to lobby central government for increased funding.

These can be considered as the arguments against English regional devolution

  • If every region in England were to have some sort of devolution, then regions would be fighting amongst themselves for the same amount of money that was available before.
  • Government would not be brought closer to the people unless the devolved powers assume real powers – as in Scotland.
  • Any new structures would merely add an extra layer of bureaucracy.
  • Regional assemblies would do little to improve economic performance within the regions.
  • Claims that devolution would usher in a new form of politics have not been borne out by experiences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So, as part of the quiet devolution revolution, the current government has steadily worked towards its goal of 'levelling up' by transferring further powers out of Whitehall to England's regional units. The impact of this is really brought home in a section from a paper by the Institute for Government, which states that:

"The proportion of England covered by devolution deals has gradually increased since 2014. If all the negotiated deals are implemented, 36% of England’s land area, 52% of the population, and 58% of its economic output will be covered by devolution." (The area in bold is by me.)

Source here.

So, essentially, the English devolution is moving forwards in two ways. First, the transfer of powers to new areas, such as the £4 billion deal for the North East. Second, increasing the powers of the ares regarded as so called "trailblazers" of devolution, i.e. the two Andy's: the West Midlands, under the leadership of Andy Street; Greater Manchester, led by the 'King of the North', Andy Burnham.

In may ways, therefore, while in a de jure (legal) sense we still have a unitary constitution in a de facto (practical) terms it has been given a lethal injection.

Video for this entry is a bit of Politics/Economics cross over, as it features the Greater Manchester Mayor explain how the region can help drive UK economic growth...

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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