• Dorothy

What does devolution actually mean?

From Government announcements about the “Northern Powerhouse” to local authorities’ own local plans, the word “devolution” appears to be everywhere these days. But what does it actually mean?

At its heart, devolution is about bringing decision-making closer to the people it affects. For some years Government has acknowledged that it’s neither cost-effective nor sustainable for the majority of decisions affecting local communities – from the funding received by colleges to the property taxes paid by businesses – to be taken in Westminster.

To this end at the start of the Parliamentary term the Government introduced the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which establishes a framework through which local authorities can bid for additional powers from Government. Through this, authorities have the opportunity to make the case the Treasury for the devolution of certain powers, and the related budgets.

You may have seen that recently the Greater Manchester Combined Authority was handed power over its entire health and social care budget – currently valued at £6 billion. That’s the sort of deal councils across the country are coming together to consider bidding for, but there is no prescribed package. Some councils may want to work together on developing a better transport network, and they’d get money to do that (the Treasury would take it out of the Department for Transport’s budget, and give it to the local authorities). Some might want to focus exclusively on developing more housing – in this case the Treasury would reallocate funds currently apportioned to the Department for Communities and Local Government, and give it to the local decision-makers.

Of course, we can’t ignore the context within which all of this is happening.

Government spending has been squeezed consistently since 2010. Local authorities