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Devolution ‘must go further’, says committee

Words: Laura Edgar

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee says Whitehall and local authorities must go further with devolution deals and engage with the public in devolution proposals.

The report, Devolution: The Next Five Years And Beyond (pdf), sets out the findings of the committee’s inquiry into the government’s devolution bill – which received Royal Assent on 28 January – and whether the Greater Manchester deal, including its health devolution agreement, was a model for other areas.

It also considers the way devolution is moving ahead in England, in places such as Tees Valley and Liverpool.

“Local areas must have the powers needed to achieve the objectives of devolution, for example to integrate and deliver public services aligned to local needs” - report

The committee says it found a “very significant” lack of public consultation and engagement at all stages of the devolution process – adding that it is not just about transferring power from national to local politicians, but also about local communities.

Therefore, the committee is calling on local leaders to “engage, consult and communicate with the public about devolution deals affecting their area”.

This, it says, should take place during the deal’s negotiation and agreement, and should not stop once a deal has been made. The public should be consulted on the impact proposals and changes have made. All devolution deals should be published online so the public can access what each one details.

To make sure the public knows who is responsible for what in their area, the committee recommends that responsibility is divided in a way that makes sense to the public and is then clearly laid out on the final deal.

Devolution sets out a recommendation that the government should publish its long-term objectives for devolution, what is needed to achieve them, and how the success of them will be measured. The government should set up a “mechanism for monitoring deals and reviewing and consulting the public on their impact”. This would, the report states, make it “easier to gather and disseminate best practice and lessons learnt.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said the committee “strongly supports” the principle of devolution but believes the current arrangements should be “first step towards a much bigger devolution settlement” and that it should be the “default across all government departments”.

Greater engagement with the public from local and government leaders is required to ensure that they “embrace” devolution as a positive development.

“Local leaders and government need to up their game to make the devolution process as transparent and engaging as possible” – Betts

Betts added that the committee would next be considering an aspect of fiscal devolution – allowing local authorities to retain all business rates.

Lord Porter, Local Government Association (LGA) chairman, said: "We celebrate those places which have achieved devolution deals but, as this report makes clear, these opportunities need to be extended across all areas of the country. Like the committee, we urge government to keep up the momentum in their discussions with non-metropolitan areas to ensure that all areas of England can benefit.”

He said devolution offers the opportunity to ensure that services are tailored to meet the needs of local people and the LGA want to see government departments’ ambition to match that of local people.

The report can be found here (pdf).