tutor2u | More devolution isn't worth it

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More devolution isn't worth it

Mike McCartney

12th June 2022

When it's viewed as a key part of the "levelling up" agenda

So says senior economist, Tony Yates, in an article in the Guardian yesterday.

Tony Yates, a former professor of Economics (at Birmingham University), argues that the whole levelling up agenda shouldn't be priority for the government, for a number of reasons. The article is well worth a read.

Before looking at what he said about devolution, here is a reminder of the arguments for and against more regional devolution for England.

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

  • 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.
  • New regional structures 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.
  • 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.

So the article contains points by Yates that chime with the last point above.

He writes:

"[But] devolution carries it sown risks. Devolving tax and spending limits the possibility of redistribution from richer ares o poorer ones; it unravels the fiscal union, setting the scene for the kinds of difficulties the euro area experienced after the financial crash. In addition, local politics is more vulnerable to corruption. Local politicians won't have national interests at heart, so may engage in unproductive fights simply to move economic activity from one place to another." (The Guardian, 11.06.22)

Mike McCartney

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

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