Devolution in Yorkshire: the revolution has yet to come


A useful overview of how recent measures to devolve power in Northern England, particularly Yorkshire, has gone. It's not so much focussed on proclaimed "successes" (say, the Northern Powerhouse), but on "failures" - the way that region strategies have pitted area against area. This may be more instructive, if we are trying to be organic and subtle about new forms of local and municipal power. 

[Note: one of our earliest followers in A/UK is Ian Martin from We Share The Same Skies, which represents an imaginative group of Yorkshire localists and autonomists. We ran a blog from Ian earlier this year - you can follow his active and engaged Twitter account at @ianeastleeds.]

From the British Academy article on the "devolution revolution" in Yorkshire:

The process of devolution across England can be described as uneven and complex. The governance of England now resembles a patchwork of ad hoc spatial fixes that do not cover all areas and are characterised by profound differences in terms of powers, funding and responsibilities. Bespoke devolution deals have been agreed behind closed doors between central government and local authorities. As a result, multiple, new, and often overlapping structures (combined authorities, metro mayors, and broader agendas such as the Northern Powerhouse) have been added to what is, in practice, and already overcrowded system of governance.

The aim of this process, driven by former Chancellor Rt Hon George Osborne, was to change the way in which England is governed, giving localities the levers to grow their economy and enhance democracy. Despite the piecemeal approach outlined above, in some areas ‘devo deals’ have been welcomed as an opportunity to empower localities and improve local governance. Greater Manchester is a case in point here. The election of Andy Burnham as metro mayor in May 2017 has opened the way to profound changes in the area, and may be seen as a way to gain further powers in the future.  

Whilst most of the debate on devolution in England seems to focus on successes, less light has been shed so far on cases of ‘failure’. However, there is a great deal to be learned from failure – especially the institutional, political, economic and democratic implications of devolution. Analysing what has been called the ‘Yorkshire devolution saga’ is thus a helpful exercise...

The article concludes:

Overall, the case of Yorkshire provides a set of important ‘warnings’ concerning the devolution agenda and its direction of travel. It sheds light on issues of governmental approach, geography, identity, democracy and party politics that can hamper the development of a sustainable system of governance able to work and deliver in the long term. More generally, it also suggests that disparities between those with and without deals are likely to widen in future.

The 2017 budget clearly confirms this, showing that devolution can pay off for the areas that have managed to strike a deal – whilst those unsuccessful or excluded in the first round, such as local authorities in Yorkshire, will be marginalised and miss out. The emergence of winners and losers indicates that devo deals have so far failed to address what, in the view of their architects, was their primary aim: foster economic development throughout England, bridging persisting cleavages such as the North-South divide as well as gaps between big cities and other non-metropolitan areas.

The real ‘devolution revolution’ has thus yet to come. It will be delivered only if and when a more coherent strategy and vision, based on a clear framework that goes beyond purely economic motives and contractual partnerships, that works for all places, is embraced with full commitment.

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