Progress on devolution in England Contents

2Current devolution

8.This chapter summarises current devolution arrangements, and evidence we received on the successes and challenges of devolution in London and other areas where devolution deals have been agreed. Later chapters will consider the case for devolution in areas currently without deals.

9.Devolution in England has taken place in three different ways. First, there are the devolution arrangements in London, with the formation of the Greater London Authority consisting of a directly elected mayor of London and the London Assembly. These institutions were created following a referendum in 1998 and legislation in 1999.13 Secondly, there are combined authorities, made up of different local authorities that have agreed to cooperate. In all but one case they have reached a devolution deal with the Government and are headed by a directly elected ‘metro mayor’.14 Thirdly, there is the wider field of local government in England encompassing single-level councils (unitary authorities and metropolitan districts),15 two-tier councils (county and district councils), and parish and town councils.16 There is only one devolution deal agreed with a local authority which is not in a combined authority, namely with Cornwall.

10.Since our predecessor committee’s report in 2016, elections have been held for the first time in nine combined authorities. This has enabled them to get up and running. A second election has followed in six of these combined authorities. A new devolution deal was agreed with West Yorkshire in 2020, and the powers promised in devolution deals, such as over the adult education budget, have been transferred to combined authorities. The areas that have devolution deals, and the devolution arrangements to the Greater London Authority, are summarised in Table 1.

Table 1: Areas with devolution

Areas with devolution

Type of Authority

Local authorities that are full members17

Does it have a directly elected mayor?

Mayor first elected

Policy areas where there is devolution

Greater London Authority18

Directly elected mayor and London Assembly




Transport; Skills and Employment; Public Health; Fire Service; Police and Crime Commissioner; Arts and Culture; Sport; Environment; Regeneration; Community Infrastructure Levy

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly

Local Authority




Transport; Skills and Employment; Health and social care integration; Land and Housing; Children and other social services; Fire Service; 100% Business rate retention pilot; Community Infrastructure Levy20

Greater Manchester

Combined Authority

Manchester; Salford; Tameside; Oldham; Trafford; Stockport; Bolton; Rochdale; Bury; Wigan



Transport; Skills and Employment; Health and social care integration; Land and Housing; Children and other social services; Police and Crime Commissioner; Fire Service; 100% Business rate retention pilot; Community Infrastructure Levy

Liverpool City Region

Combined Authority

Liverpool; Wirral; Knowsley; St Helens;Sefton; Halton



Transport; Skills and Employment; Land and Housing; 100% Business Rate retention pilot

West Midlands

Combined Authority

Birmingham; Sandwell; Dudley; Wolverhampton; Walsall; Coventry; Solihull



Transport; Skills and Employment; Land and Housing; 100% Business Rate retention pilot

Tees Valley

Combined Authority

Darlington; Middlesbrough; Hartlepool; Stockton-on-Tees; Redcar & Cleveland



Transport; Skills and Employment; Land and Housing

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

Combined Authority

Cambridgeshire; Peterborough; Huntingdonshire; Fenland; East Cambridgeshire; South Cambridgeshire; Cambridge City



Transport; Skills and Employment; Land and Housing

West of England

Combined Authority

Bristol; Bath & North-East Somerset; SouthGloucestershire



Transport; Skills and Employment; Land and Housing; 100% Business Rate retention pilot

Sheffield City Region

Combined Authority

Sheffield; Doncaster; Rotherham; Barnsley



Transport; Skills and Employment; Land and Housing

North of Tyne

Combined Authority

Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Northumberland;North Tyneside



Skills and Employment; Land and Housing. (Transport responsibility is shared with the North East Combined Authority)

West Yorkshire

Combined Authority

Braford; Calderdale; Kirklees; Leeds; Wakefield



Transport; Skills and Employment; Police and Crime Commissioner

Sources: Devolution to local government in England, No. 07029, House of Commons Library, March 2020; Introduction to devolution in the UK, No. 8599, House of Commons Library, June 2019; HM Treasury and MHCLG, Addendum to the West Yorkshire devolution deal, March 2021

11.During our inquiry, we received lots of positive evidence about the successes of devolved authorities. Authorities with devolution deals that submitted evidence highlighted their achievements.21 For instance, Sheffield City Region Combined Authority pointed to the £500 million brought into the region through private investment through its efforts; the 15,150 jobs it and the local enterprise partnership had created; and the 8,384 people its skills programme had trained.22 Evidence from other organisations was similarly positive. We were told Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly had “a very successful mode of governance and scrutiny”. Their leadership board “works quite well with communities” along with parish councils and the local enterprise partnership (LEP).23 Greater Manchester’s long history of stakeholder co-operation and coterminous boundaries saw it described as “an exemplar for [the] possibilities of devolution”.24 Specific policies pursued by devolved authorities were singled out for praise. These included Greater Manchester’s creation of a single health and social care budget,25 which had broken down siloes;26 “the visibility and voice afforded by the mayor”;27 and its workforce relations.28 Across different combined authorities the advent of bus franchising,29 lower bus fares,30 and increased adult education provision were also highlighted;31 as was the Mayoral Development Corporation’s help for the Redcar steelworks in the Tees Valley.32

12.London too received praise. Its governance model was commended;33 as was the use of policy levers to improve transport, for example introducing the congestion charge.34 The different mayors were seen as having given London “a strong voice at the national and international level”. Examples cited included the 2012 Olympics, securing transport infrastructure investment, and the role played by the mayor as a spokesperson responding to the Grenfell Tower fire and to terrorist attacks in 2005 and 2017.35

13.We also however heard about the impact of devolution deals on neighbouring areas without deals.36 Sunderland Council, which does not have a devolution deal, opined that:

It is clear to us that devolution deals can and do confer a competitive advantage upon those areas with deals over those that don’t, particularly where additional financial resources form part of a formal agreement … Residents and businesses in areas without a deal are unable to access the same resources and opportunities.37

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) agreed that “when you go down the route of devolution with mayoral combined authorities, there is a danger of some areas being better placed to attract funds and investment.” However, their solution was extending devolution to those neighbouring areas.38 Similarly, the housing developers Midland Heart proposed “a review of the regions not currently participating in the devolution process such as the East Midlands, to ensure no regions fall behind.”39

14.Other assessments of devolution arrangements did not criticise the action or effect of combined authorities, but rather regretted their lack of sufficient powers and responsibilities. Evidence from De Montfort University (written by Emeritus Professor Colin Copus), told us that “what has occurred with devolution so far, is more administrative and task based decentralisation than the devolution of power.” There was a lack of “decision-making power or financial autonomy” comparable to that in Scotland and Wales.40 Particular problems with the North of Tyne arrangements were ascribed to the lack of powers relative to other combined authorities, the small size and lack of “meaningful economic geography”, and “weak identification amongst the wider public”. It was feared these weaknesses would undermine public support for devolution.41

15.Devolution deals were also critiqued for being inconsistent between different places, for example: the exclusion from oversight by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority of the city deal arrangements that are overseen by other combined authorities;42 the combining of the mayor with the police and crime commissioner in some but not all areas;43 and some areas having statutory spatial planning powers and others have not.44

The Government review of May 2021

16.In May 2021 the Government published an evaluation of existing devolved institutions. This was undertaken by the consultancy firm, Warwick Economics and Development Ltd. Its surveys of the public and business found positive views of metro mayors, who are seen as providing clear leadership and a single voice for an area. It was recommended that additional clarification be provided of the role, remit and powers of mayors, chief executives and other senior management in combined authorities. Further clarity was also needed on three core principles. First, the legal standing of devolved authorities. Secondly, the principle of subsidiarity, with regular reviews about which decisions can be made closer to the people affected. Thirdly, the level of fiscal autonomy provided, with a move towards a self-sustaining financial system at local level. In addition, for devolution to succeed there needed to be improved civic engagement, improved working relations between local and combined authorities (including clarity on responsibilities between local authorities), and strengthened capacity and capabilities for devolved institutions, including ensuring sources of long-term funding. The review also proposed monitoring and assessment of the capacity of areas to take on a devolution deal or further powers; and advocated greater public engagement during and after the negotiations of the deal. It also stressed it was unclear how the devolution deal with Cornwall could be extended or whether it could be replicated elsewhere in England.45

17.There has been important progress with devolution in England since our predecessor committee’s report in 2016. But further progress can and should be made over the course of this Parliament. The remainder of this report sets out our recommended next steps for extending devolution.

14 The exception is the North East Combined Authority, which consists of Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Durham councils.

15 Within metropolitan district areas, certain conurbation wide services such as fire and civil defence, police, waste disposal and passenger transport are provided through joint authorities of the different districts. Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Local Government Structure and Elections, (April 2019)

16 There are two additional individual councils— the City of London Corporation within the “Square Mile” of the historic City of London, and the Council of the Isles of Scilly which is a unitary authority but provides some services in conjunction with Cornwall Council.

17 There are also associate members of the Sheffield City Region, West Yorkshire, and West Midlands Combined Authorities. Their electorates do not vote in the elections for the directly elected mayor.

18 The devolution arrangements for the Greater London Authority are based on the Greater London Authority Act 1999, the Greater London Authority Act 2007, and the Localism Act 2011, part 8. There are also two memoranda of understanding: Memorandum of Understanding on Further Devolution in England, March 2017 and Working towards Justice Devolution to London, March 2018.

19 The 2015 Cornwall Devolution Deal was also signed by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and by NHS Kernow Commissioning Group.

20 Powers such as children services, the fire service, powers over land and housing, and having a Community Infrastructure Levy are held by Cornwall Council as a unitary authority, rather than as a result of the devolution deal.

21 Manchester Combined Authority (PDE0032), Mayor Dan Jarvis (POD0017), Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (POD0018)

22 Sheffield City Region Combined Authority (PDE0016)

23 Q66 (Andrew Walker, Head of Research, Local Government Information Unit). Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are designed to support businesses. They were established to replace Regional Development Agencies abolished in 2010. There are 38 of them across England. They are led by a board, chaired by a business leader, and made up of a mixture of business and public sector representatives. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Local Enterprise Partnerships Capacity and Capabilities Assessment, BEIS Research Paper Number 2020/011, (July 2020), p 9

24 Q7 (Francesca Gains, Professor of Public Policy, University of Manchester)

25 IPPR North (PDE0023)

26 Policy Connect (POD0016)

27 IPPR North (PDE0023)

28 Q81 (Mike Short, Senior National Officer for Local Government, UNISON)

29 IPPR North (PDE0023)

30 Centre for Cities (PDE0030)

31 Policy Connect (POD0016)

32 Centre for Cities (PDE0030), Local Government Association (POD0014)

33 Q7 (John Stanton, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of London), Q162 (James Palmer, Metro Mayor, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority)

34 Centre for London (PDE0018)

35 Centre for London (PDE0018)

36 Local Government Association (PDE0011), Regional Studies Association (POD0019)

37 Sunderland City Council (PDE0015)

38 CBI (PDE0031)

39 Midland Heart (PDE0027). See also for the idea of regular reviews of devolution the Regional Studies Association (POD0019)

40 De Montfort University (PDE0003)

41 Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS), Newcastle University, UK (PDE 0006)

42 Q155 (James Palmer, Metro Mayor, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority)

43 UNISON (POD0008)

44 Midland Heart (PDE0027)

45 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Evaluation of Devolved Institutions: Final Report, BEIS Research paper number 2021/024, (May 2021), paras 3.9, 3.12, 4.9, 6.9, 6.12

Published: 1 October 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement