The Prime Minister’s announcement that devolution deals will be extended to county areas is a welcome step forward.
This is an exciting opportunity for councils, which have been calling for greater devolution, but also uncharted territory for many.
The LGA has developed a new ‘Devolution deal to delivery’ guide to support councils considering devolution deals. It offers insight into the existing combined authorities, and lessons learned from the deals to date.
For those councils considering devolution deals, the prospect of greater powers is an attractive one.
Greater devolution means decisions being made closer to the people they affect, and local leaders being empowered to deliver the change their community needs.
But the process of securing a devolution deal is not always straightforward – and nor is putting it into practice.
The LGA’s research shows that, as time has passed, the process of negotiating devolution deals has become more formulaic. Early deals were a process of genuine devolution; the recent ones more resemble a menu from which local areas can choose options.
This provides little opportunity for genuine innovation. The arrival of new county deals hopefully signals a return to more bespoke arrangements.
“A combined authority is not the only route to devolution”
Drawing on interviews and research, the guide sets out lessons that can be learned from the nine existing mayoral combined authorities.
One key lesson is the importance of collaboration – between councils, local businesses and other local partners – which requires sustained effort. There are no quick fixes.
Another lesson is the value of metro mayors: their soft power, their role as conveners, and their ability to raise the profile of a place can help combined authorities achieve their goals.
Some of those interviewed for the guide questioned the quality of engagement between mayors and ministers from different political parties. Others see the relationship as being an important one, regardless of party politics.
In all cases, it is clear from this research that mayoral combined authorities are widely perceived to have had a positive impact.
However, the guide recognises that forming a combined authority is not the only route to a devolution deal. It poses questions that councils that are thinking about becoming a combined authority should consider.
These include asking what they are trying to achieve, what mechanisms would help them achieve these goals, and – if the answer is not a combined authority – what are the alternatives?
The Secretary of State for Local Government has indicated that greater flexibility will be available for county deals, so questions about the best structure for a devolution deal are more relevant than ever to councils.
This guide may also be of use to existing combined authorities.
One key feature the research highlights is the diversity of combined authorities. This takes many forms – from geography and the history of collaboration, to the political culture of the combined authority – and means there is much that combined authorities can learn from each other.
With devolution firmly back on the agenda, the LGA’s new ‘Devolution deal to delivery’ guide will be a valuable resource for councils.