What Do Devolution Deals Mean For The North?

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There are calls for further devolution deals for combined authorities throughout the region post-Brexit but what is devolution and is it a good thing?

What Does Devolution Mean?

Devolution is a process designed to decentralise government and policy making. Since 1999, the way the UK has been run has been transformed by devolution. Devolved powers from London to assemblies in Cardiff and Belfast and the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh have included education, environment and healthcare amongst others.

More recently, local areas have been allowed to bid for devolved powers by forming a combined authority with a directly elected metro mayor. Combined authorities throughout the North include: Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley and the North East Combined Authority which includes the areas including and surrounding Tyneside and Wearside. There are further proposed combined authorities that may happen in the region including Cheshire and Warrington, Lancashire and Cumbria.

The Power Of A Metro Mayor

The devolution deals already existing have granted previously non-existent powers to combined authorities and their respective mayors.

As an example, in the Greater Manchester Area the new devolved powers include:

  • more control of local transport
  • new planning powers to encourage regeneration and development
  • a new £300m fund for housing: enough for an extra 15,000 new homes over ten years
  • extra funding to get up to 50,000 people back into work
  • incentives to skills-providers to develop more work-related training
  • extra budget to support and develop local businesses
  • the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner being merged with the elected mayor
  • control of investment through a new ‘earn back’ funding arrangement which gives us extra money for the region’s infrastructure if we reach certain levels of economic growth.

The devolution deals are similar throughout the UK so as you can see the combined authorities and their elected mayors hold quite a lot of power. It is a massive contrast when compared to the powers the unitary authorities usually look after including waste management, council tax collection and local services.

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Is Devolution A Good Thing?

The recent Spring Statement by Chancellor Phillip Hammond argued for one of the main positives of devolution. He allocated £1.7 billion for improving transport in English cities. Half of this budget was allocated to combined authorities with metro mayors who will not need to bid for the money like other authorities have now been invited to. This will hopefully streamline the improvement of transport infrastructure in parts of the North which is of course, a good thing.

The main argument against devolution of powers is the cost implication involved. Why change something when it can be argued that central government has been doing an adequate job for years?

I, personally, do not think this is the case for the North. For too long, the UK has been too London focused and I believe devolved power is starting to result in a bit more of a balance. We need to spread the economy like Germany do who’s political hub is Berlin with an financial hub in Frankfurt, a media hub in Dusseldorf and a recently recognised start-up hub in Hamburg.

A More Balanced Economy Is More Resilient

I think devolution is indeed a good thing and hope that an opportunity is taken post-Brexit for combined authorities to take more control. Brexit cannot be a power grab from Whitehall as discussed in the media recently.

Sources: BBC News, Local.gov.uk, www.gov.uk, greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk

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