The benefits and challenges of devolution in the UK

1 February 2017


Reported by Makoto Takahashi, ESRC-funded Policy Intern (January - April 2017)

The promise of local governance is to bring politics closer to the people; making it more accountable to the local community. At a recent CSaP event, Policy Fellow Jeremy Skinner of the Greater London Authority (GLA) made the case for a further devolution of powers.

Hosted in the SKYroom at One Horseguards' Road, the lunchtime meeting brought together CSaP Policy Fellows from across government and industry.

The discussion began with a short presentation from Jeremy Skinner, who introduced the case for greater devolution made by the recent London Finance Commission Report, Devolution: a capital idea. The report (download here) argues for a broader tax base with stronger fiscal controls at the local level. As noted in the report, the UK is an outlier amongst OECD countries for the tax revenue received by local government compared to central government, with local government tax revenue as a proportion of GDP only 1.6% in the UK compared to an OECD average of 8.8%.

A lively debate over the UK's relatively limited state of devolution ensued. Policy Fellows agreed that devolution is not an aim in and of itself and the case for further devolution must be made with reference to tangible benefits for UK citizens. Proponents argued that the success of the GLA - in introducing the congestion charge, organising the Olympics, and regenerating Stratford - is ample evidence of devolution's boons. But others emphasised that London is exceptional, making it a poor model for the rest of the UK.

The discussion moved on to consider what a devolutionary agenda might look like in practice. With Brexit negotiations ongoing, we heard it might be difficult to fit a devolutionary bill into the legislative calendar. It was hypothesised that a series of smaller bills may be more practical than a single, larger bill, and would provide the opportunity to experiment and refine policy.

The debate concluded with a discussion of the so-called "parent-child" relationship between central and local governments, with participants suggesting ways to build central government's trust in local authorities.

We are grateful to Rupert Cryer for hosting this lunch, which was the latest in a series of monthly working lunches for CSaP Policy Fellows.

Photo: View from the SKYroom, by Makoto Takahashi