13th November 2015
“You say you want a revolution…”
As I ponder what life holds in store as a result of George’s ‘Devolution Revolution’ I can’t get the Beatles song ‘Revolution’ out of my head – particularly the opening verse:
“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world”
And which is it: revolution or evolution? It certainly feels a mixed picture. Let’s think back over the last five years of local growth and the journey we’ve been on:
– Coalition Government. A two-page letter appears from Eric and Vince – introduces a new three-letter acronym into our local government lexicon: LEP. From a two page letter, a new world is born.
– 39 LEPs appear through collaboration, discussion, deliberation, coercion (?) and (re)define the economic geography of England…
– Whole Place Community Budget pilots – the promise of a breakthrough and the disappointment of the reality. A significantly missed opportunity, or just not the right time (in hindsight)…?
– City Deals – starting with the Core Cities and then extending out to others in wave two. A chip away at the dominance of Whitehall and Westminster in local growth…
– Heseltine – no stone is left unturned and a cartoon (!) on the front of what will be a vital piece of the devolution jigsaw for years to come. Devolutionary intent and revolution around the corner…?
– The Local Growth Fund – a financial response to the Heseltine review, the first overt statement of intent from the Government. Around the country, we analyse ‘our fair share’ and perhaps miss the point. But perhaps so do Government when it feels just a little too familiar as a national bidding completion…
– Combined Authorities, born of what was probably the last significant local growth legislation of the Gordon Brown Government (The Local Democracy and Construction Act 2009) which followed (for policy geeks out there) the Sub National Review (remember that?!)…
– Devolution Deals – revolution? Perhaps. Evolution? Certainly. But some significant steps forward are becoming evident through each deal as they are struck. And as no doubt we are all reminding our politicians who have to go and sell these deals (and Mayors), we’re opening the door to further opportunities…
So, where next?
There are some suspicions that we are all being distracted away from damaging legislative changes and financial realities which will flow from this month’s CSR by the devolution distraction. While this might perhaps suit the camaraderie of those reviewing their devo-deal (v.17) while reviewing governance arrangements and assurance frameworks late into the night on a damp, dark evening in November, I definitely detect a stronger political pursuit of devolution with this Government – which is now percolating through the civil service. I think we are massively helped here by the Local Growth Team headed by Tom Walker who ‘get it’ and are prepared to help us make things happen.
The local government family needs to stay strong and stay the course. Continue to push for more – and prove time and time again we can deliver when given the powers, tools, and funding to get on with it locally. We must also pay close attention to the mechanics of this new world – though boring to some, appropriate governance and assurance will be watchwords as £billions flow locally through new and developing partnerships for place-based growth. The National Audit Office are certainly active, aren’t they?
Some of this debate will of course feature as part of the forthcoming LGA/SOLACE event “Devolution: Effective governance in a new world” on Friday, November 27.
Finally, what of the future challenges and opportunities? I foresee three particular features that will define some of the next five years:
1. The role of LEPs – how will they adapt to the new more complex partnership world of CAs, Devolution Deals, new geographies, and uncertain funding? How will they demonstrate a strong business voice and mandate when taxation decisions (such as Mayoral supplementary business rates) will need their consent? And how do we consolidate the greater understanding, trust, and respect between the public and private sectors which has been evident over the past five years?
2. Business rates localisation and the post-2020 world. How do we work closely with Government to redesign the very core of local government finance for the next generation? What measures of protection will remain for those places that need it – and how do we construct a genuinely powerful incentive to grow our local economies which will consolidate the importance of our economic role in places? And are business rates necessarily the answer…? Answers on the back of a postcard, please.
3. Place-based leadership of local public services. Surely the time has come for the policy intent and thrust of Total Place and Whole Place Community Budgets? While we have all been cultivating the ground through local collaborations despite the lack of Government appetite to go there, some parts of the Government machine still need the central push. And until money flows and outcomes-based approaches around local public service systems (where one part of the system invests to support another or gives up its sovereignty for the greater good) becomes the norm, arguably we are still applying the handbrake to a genuinely revolutionary devolution.
One thing is for sure: we all want to change (our) world for the better!
“Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright”
By Simon Neilson, Deputy Spokesperson for Economic Prosperity and Executive Director, Economy & Environment, Walsall Council.