The art of the devolution deal

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Akash Paun; Duncan Henderson; Peter Hourston

July 5, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at how England’s counties and cities can make a success of devolution.

This report sets out how politicians and officials can master the art of the devolution deal to give new devolved institutions a greater chance of success. It welcomes the cross-party consensus behind the devolution of key economic powers across England – but warns that too little attention has been paid to how devolution deals are negotiated and implemented, how combined authorities are established, and how Whitehall should support them. Examining why devolution has worked well in some places, struggled in others and failed to get off the ground at all elsewhere, the report – produced in partnership with the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Policy and Engagement – says the effectiveness of devolved institutions suffers if a devolution deal is based on incoherent geography, lacks sufficient local support or is poorly implemented. Devolution of powers can help local leaders allocate resources, regenerate their economies and reshape public services to meet local needs, but it is no silver bullet. There are plenty of positive examples: local leaders are addressing health inequality in Greater Manchester, tackling low levels of advanced qualifications in the workforce in the West Midlands, creating a more integrated and sustainable transport system in the Liverpool City Region, and supporting the growth of green energy in Tees Valley. But flawed deals have resulted in dispute-ridden authorities and governance weaknesses in places like Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and the West of England, delays to devolution in Yorkshire due to disagreements over appropriate geography, and weak scrutiny of decision making in places like Tees Valley. Drawing on interviews with senior officials and politicians, new research and a private roundtable, the report acts as a guide to those involved in concluding devolution deals and sets out advice for how to navigate the four stages of a devolution deal’s “lifecycle”: conception, negotiation, implementation and operation.