Paul Hackett, director of the Smith Institute, wrote a blog for the latest edition of devointelligence on the some of the latest developments in devolution, the text for which can be seen below:
The National Audit Office has done us all a favour by highlighting some of the big cracks in the Chancellor’s ‘‘kick and run” devolution strategy. Their latest report, English devolution deals is highly critical of Obsorne’s informal approach and concludes that it’s unclear what the government is trying to achieve. “Some of the opportunities and obstacles are becoming clearer, but we still don’t have a clear view of the landscape or, crucially, an idea of the destination”, said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.
The NAO also point out that the 10 devolution deals may not achieve the benefits intended and that there are real concerns over the governance arrangements and lack of accountability. Whilst there is support for a “devolution revolution”, the jury is out as to whether the government’s piecemeal devo-strategy will strengthen local democracy and stimulate local growth.
Devolution and metro mayors by themselves don’t guarantee prosperity and without adequate resources and a fairer system of equalisation we could end up with a war of all against all, with poorer places slipping further behind. The Treasury are betting on a blend of asymmetrical devolution and agglomeration policies creating winners and losers, with private replacing public. But this may not be acceptable to voters, especially when it comes to the consequences of greater fiscal devolution. Public service may be put at risk and places beyond the city region boundaries could be left further behind.
There’s a case for a fairer tax and spend settlement within and between regions, but advocates of uber localism should be careful what they wish for. The Smith Institute’s research showed that on retention of stamp duty, for example, three London boroughs (Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster, Camden) take more in stamp duty receipts than the North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands and West Midlands combined! There are similar disparities with other local taxes, like Business Rates.
That’s not to say devolution and greater fiscal autonomy can’t work. It’s the way it’s done and who it’s for. Rather than backroom deals and bidding wars, it’s time for an honest and fair devo settlement. And one based on lifting all the boats and Whitehall and Town halls working together.