Subnational government in England

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Thomas Pope; Grant Dalton; Maelyne Coggins

December 14, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at an international comparison for subnational government.

England’s usually messy patchwork of governing arrangements makes it an international outlier in its subnational government structures. This report draws on comparable data across large, advanced economies and additional qualitative analysis of Germany and Japan (including interviews with country experts), digging beneath the headline statistic to explain the ways in which England is unusually centralised. In other countries, responsibilities that are centralised in England are often devolved to a regional tier – or are at least determined at a larger economic geography than local authorities. In England, unitary local authorities cover less than a tenth of the population of the regional government tier in other countries, on average. Even metro mayor authorities cover smaller populations on average than this middle tier in other countries. The paper also finds that England stands out in the following ways: Subnational government is unusual in having only a small role in – in particular – economic development such as transport and the delivery of health care. On the other hand, responsibility for social care is unusually decentralised in England, especially relative to local authorities’ limited other responsibilities. Almost all tax revenues flow to central government, leaving local authorities especially reliant on government grants, while other countries’ subnational governments are entitled to a greater share of revenues across a wide range of taxes. However, this is not the same as control over tax rates, and many countries have “tax sharing” arrangements which give subnational governments entitlement to a share of local taxes. Local government grants are unusually restrictive. English subnational government is more reliant on competitive funding pots, with less fungible grant funding that can be sent as local government sees fit.