Last Thursday saw the launch of the Bristol City Office, an idea that has been six years in the making. It’s an idea that seeks to address some of the challenges faced by the public sector, with ever decreasing budgets and reducing powers. It’s about partnership and collaborative governance, bringing organisations, individuals and budgets together to tackle the issues that we have failed to tackle before, where collaboration and joint working are essential, alongside the willingness to be creative and innovative. But why will this approach work when other attempts have failed and how is this different?
The announcement in the Budget that the West of England had signed a devolution deal with Government came as a bit of a surprise to many. This was partially because the deals have been shrouded in so much secrecy that even many of our local politicians didn’t know what was happening and what would be included, let alone the local residents. It was also a bit of a surprise when you consider the general level of local opposition to the notion of a combined authority and a metro-mayor. This opposition has been pretty much unanimous amongst local politicians, with few supporting the idea of a city-region mayor, and most suggesting that current, informal arrangements are sufficient and that there is no need for any form of formal structure. So definitely surprising to see that all four leaders have signed up to a deal that includes arrangements for a metro-mayor and combined authority structure.
There are a number of questions that initially spring to my mind when considering this whole devolution agenda. Firstly, if we weren’t part of it would it matter? Secondly, is what’s included worth it? Thirdly, is this the right structure for our area? Lastly, what’s missing? I’ll take these questions in turn and share my thoughts.
That is the conclusion of the Political Studies Association’s Research Commission to examine the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities. The Commission, chaired by Dr Sarah Ayres launched its report at a round table event at the Institute for Government on 3rd March 2016. The report offers some reflections on the process of decision making around the devolution deals to date. It draws on the shared learning and experiences of key actors involved to identify elements that have worked well and also potential areas for improvement. It concludes that the devolution agenda offers a real opportunity to empower local areas, boost economic productivity and improve public services. Yet, there is a danger that the initiative will falter in the absence of greater clarity around process and enhanced local ownership of decision making.
The UK has long been regarded as one of the most centralised states in Europe. Yet, since the Scottish Referendum and the election of a Conservative Government in May 2015, the devolution agenda in England has moved forward at a rapid pace. It offers a real opportunity to significantly transform the way England is governed. There is energy and momentum behind English devolution that has the potential to address growing public concerns about the governance of England in a devolved United Kingdom. Central Government proposals for devolution have been met largely with enthusiasm from local areas and there is a firm commitment in parts of Government to see the devolution of power in core policy areas such as transport, economic development and regeneration and public service reform.
This was first posted on the Centre for Cities blog.
Festival of Social Science, a debate took place in Bristol on 9/11/15 on the impacts of directly elected mayors on cities, including contributions from Baroness Barbara Janke, former Leader of Bristol City Council and Member of the House of Lords, Thom Oliver, Political Scientist, UWE, David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol, and Ben Harrison, Centre for Cities. A lively debate included reference to George Osborne’s plans for cities and city regions, and particularly whether we are witnessing a ‘devolution deception’.
Here, Ben Harrison argues the case against such an interpretation.
To dismiss the Government’s devolution agenda simply as a “deception” is to opt out of a debate at the very time that real change is finally possible.
I was recently in Bristol earlier this week speaking about the merits of directly elected mayors, when I heard a familiar refrain during the audience Q and A. Far from being a significant redistribution of power from the central state to local areas, the Government’s entire devolution agenda, the attendee said, was nothing more than a “devolution deception”.
This is far from the only time I’ve heard this kind of critique put forward, not least from the national Labour party and its new leader, and earlier this week from the leader of the Liberal Democrats. But does it really stack up – is the Government really deceiving people when it comes to its intentions on devolution?