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In the News

English devolution: The government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda

Mike McCartney

23rd March 2022

The latest edition of the excellent ‘The Bottom Line’ podcast looks at this

On launching the White Paper, Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove said: “The United Kingdom is an unparalleled success story. We have one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic economies. Ours is the world’s most spoken language. We have produced more Nobel Prize winners than any country other than America. “But not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success. For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine. “Levelling up and this whitepaper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery. “This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

Before listening to the podcast, let’s revisit the arguments for and against moving powers out of Whitehall to new devolved authorities across England (either extending the powers of already established bodies, such as the Manchester Metro Mayor, or new bodies, such as those proposed for the likes of Durham, Leicestershire, and Suffolk).

These can be considered as the arguments in favour of more 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 more 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.

Listen to the podcast here

Mike McCartney

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

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