Progress on devolution in England Contents


1.Devolution in England has evolved considerably over the last decade. In 2011 there was only one devolved authority in England—the Greater London Authority with a directly elected mayor and the London Assembly. Our inquiry has built on our predecessor committees’ inquiries into devolution and devolved institutions.1 We share our predecessor committees’ strong support for the principle of devolution.

2.Since our predecessor committee’s 2016 report entitled Devolution: the next five years and beyond? there have been a number of developments, including the signing of new devolution deals, for instance with the West Yorkshire combined authority, and the holding of elections for mayors of combined authorities. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has indicated his support for devolution, both in 2019,2 and more recently when he tied it to the ‘levelling up’ agenda.3 We were therefore keen to take stock of progress made since our 2016 report, and to consider the next steps for further devolution to areas both with and without devolution deals.

3.Our inquiry has therefore focused on both existing and potential devolution, in terms of geography and the powers available. We have looked at existing devolution arrangements, including in London. We have also considered whether devolution could be extended beyond the mainly urban areas currently with devolution arrangements. As a devolution framework has been proposed as a way of simplifying the process of reaching devolution deals, we decided to assess its merits compared to agreeing bespoke deals. We have considered the critical issue of the role of central government in devolution. We have also examined the case for further fiscal devolution and how to ensure effective governance and accountability.

4.Our predecessor committee began this inquiry in July 2019 and received 33 pieces of written evidence ahead of the dissolution of Parliament in November of that year. At the start of this Parliament we relaunched the inquiry, retaining the same terms of reference and adopting the evidence that had already been received. We held five oral evidence sessions and received a further 20 pieces of written evidence. We would like to thank everybody who submitted evidence to the inquiry. We are also very grateful for the help of our Specialist Advisers, Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, and Aileen Murphie, Honorary Professor, Durham University Business School.

5.During our inquiry the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Devolution published their report into the role of national government in making a success of devolution in England.4 The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee has also been undertaking an inquiry into English devolution.5 Both of those pieces of work have informed our inquiry.

6.The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) submitted written evidence to the inquiry in 2019.6 In September 2019 the Rt Hon Sajid Javid, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced at the Conservative Party Conference that the Government would bring forward a White Paper on devolution,7 a commitment repeated in the Conservative general election manifesto and the briefing for the Queen’s Speech in December 2019.8 We had intended to question a Minister as part of the inquiry, but agreed to postpone the session given the challenges posed by a rise in Covid cases in early 2021. We are grateful however to the Ministry for sending a letter updating us on the Government’s view on the progress of devolution.9 In March 2021 it was suggested the devolution White Paper would be published between September 2021 and March 2022.10 It has subsequently been suggested that the devolution White Paper will be folded within the ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper,11 which the Government has stated will be published later in 2021.12 Once a White Paper has been published, it is our intention to question the Minister.

7.Our report is organised into six chapters. The first chapter summarises the current state of English devolution, including the views expressed to us about its success and challenges. The second chapter examines the role of central government in further devolution, including whether there should be a devolution framework. The third chapter considers the case for financial devolution. The fourth chapter evaluates the merits for further devolution of powers in different policy areas. The fifth chapter examines the case for widening the geographical scope of devolution and whether this should be accompanied by directly elected mayors and local government reorganisation. The sixth chapter concentrates on the measures needed to ensure and enhance scrutiny of devolved authorities.

1 Communities and Local Government Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2013–14, Post-legislative scrutiny of the Greater London Authority Act 2007 and the London Assembly, HC 213; Communities and Local Government Committee, First Report of Session 2014–15, Devolution in England: the case for local government, HC 503; Communities and Local Government Committee, First Report of Session 2015–16, Devolution: the next five years and beyond, HC 369; Communities and Local Government Committee, First Report of Session 2017–19, Effectiveness of local authority overview and scrutiny committees, HC 369

2 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, PM speech at Manchester Science and Industry Museum, 27 July 2019

3 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, The Prime Minister’s Levelling Up speech: 15 July 2021, 15 July 2021

5 Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, The Evolution of Devolution: English Devolution, September 2020

6 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (PDE0033)

7 Conservative and Unionist Party, Sajid Javid’s Conservative Party Conference Speech 2019, 30 September 2019

8 Conservative and Unionist Party, Get Brexit Done: Unleash Britain’s Potential, November 2019, p 29; HM Government, The Queen’s Speech December 2019: Background Briefing Notes, December 2019, p 109

10 HM Treasury, Build Back Better: our plan for growth, CP 401, March 2021, p 107

11Updated: devolution reforms to be replaced by levelling up white paper”, Local Government Chronicle, 6 May 2021

12 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, The Prime Minister’s Levelling Up speech: 15 July 2021, 15 July 2021

Published: 1 October 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement