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In the News

Would more devolution benefit the English regions?

Mike McCartney

15th May 2023

Yes, but only if carried out properly. So says a new report.

A new report has been published by the Institute for Government (IfG), looking at the costs and benefits of more devolution to the English regions.

As a recap, let's revisit the general arguments.

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.

The report from the IfG looks specially at economic powers and the costs/benefits of transferring more powers away from central government.

In summary, the IfG website states:

"This report sets out where devolution of policy responsibilities would be most beneficial.

It finds that international evidence on the link between devolution and economic performance is inconclusive at best and regional growth is not guaranteed when powers are devolved.

The report argues that devolution of powers across England must be coherent – devolving the right responsibilities to the right institutions with flexible funding – to achieve the positive economic outcomes desired by both main parties."

So there you have it. There is a case for more economic devolution, but only in certain aspects.

The full report is here.

Mike McCartney

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

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