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  • Writer's pictureEastern Powerhouse

Devolution - Power Up Britain by going further and faster

Deepening and widening devolution will be the route to growth for the regions and the UK

Labour has set out its clearest statement to date about how it will take forward devolution in England. The recent paper, Power and partnership: Labour’s Plan to Power up Britainincludes commitments to build on the mayors and combined authorities that have been established in the past decade.

Currently, around half of England is covered by combined authorities, to which central government has devolved some key policy levers like transport and skills. The East of England currently has just one Mayoral Combined authority, covering Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, but Norfolk and Suffolk are scheduled to follow in 2025 having agreed their deals with government.

Places with mayors have seen benefits that others without combined authorities have missed out on, with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands having broadened and deepened their devolution deals with additional powers and responsibilities over sub-regional policy. If Labour are to form the next government their priority will be to boost growth in all regions. Plans for devolution are therefore central to Labour’s growth mission.

The underpinning rationale for stronger economic growth outside London and the South East, is that achieving this will be more likely if places have the right powers. Labour proposes to give additional levers to mayors, such as greater control over employment support and planning. There is also a commitment to simpler and longer-term funding settlements for devolved areas, which localities have been arguing for.

Labour’s plans also emphasise the need for clear strategy, both at the local level through new local growth plans and at the national level through industrial strategy. And it proposes improvements to how the centre can work with mayors and other local leaders. A clear strategy driven from the centre, with a plan that incorporates the role of local government, is crucial if a government wants to tackle longstanding regional inequalities and make devolution work. 

These proposals are not a radical departure from the current government’s plans. Labour have acknowledged that the Levelling Up white paper gets much of the analysis and diagnosis right. There is little in these plans that the current government would disagree with. And this continuity is to be welcomed. If Labour forms the next government, building on the success of combined authorities and mayors will allow it to make more progress and increases its chances of success. The main difference is that Labour has resolved to go further and faster, with a clear plan for coordination between local and national.


The map of devolved areas in England

Source: Institute for Government

Labour’s plans do not yet represent a comprehensive programme for devolution in government. There is uncertainty about whether Mayors are a condition of any future deals, or whether the role of Mayors will be strengthened to remove powers of veto. There is also no reference to fiscal devolution, as yet. Nor is there any development of the thinking around regions and how, for example, sensible geographies of scale might inform decision making between combined authorities on matters of essential regional infrastructure such as transport, particularly rail. Local agreements will not lead to a complete map for devolution.

Labour will need to decide how and when it intervenes to ensure the map makes sense overall. 


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