2017 could be the most radical phase of devolution yet
When George Osborne announced the first devolution deal to Greater Manchester in November 2014, it was widely seen as a method to spur on growth in a city-region that, like many outside of London, were far from their productive potential. Nonetheless, Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, hailed the deal as ‘revolutionary’, and when control over a £6bn health and social care budget was announced in February 2015, the changes were described as ‘historic’ by the former chancellor. Critics there were – Andy Burnham, for one, slated a ‘swiss cheese’ style NHS, and many questioned whether £1bn could be saved from Greater Manchester’s healthcare deficit through the deal.
Now, in a Brexit/Trump era, nothing is revolutionary, Burnham is the Labour candidate for Greater Manchester Mayor, and that projected healthcare deficit will have doubled to £2bn by 2020. But, far from dampening ambitions, mayoral candidates, and leaders – both in English regions and in Scotland and Wales – are rightly seeing that the prizes at stake are quickly becoming huge.
While all national policy decisions are now said to be entangled in the ‘web of Brexit’ – hence civil servants having little time to work on new devolution deals – 2017 will be a period of flux, and hence, opportunity for radicalism. Wales will control its own income tax rates from 2019. Scotland is proposing a Norway style arrangement, where it will remain in the Single Market irrespective of the UK deal – or, if not, leaders hope to win another independence referendum within two years.
The South Yorkshire devo deal is off, but a pan-Yorkshire deal covering its five million residents could be on: it certainly has some strong support as we report below. Encompassing four city regions including Sheffield, Leeds, York and North Yorks, and Hull and the Humber, it would clearly have to look quite different to existing devo deals. Devo Connect, with a high-level panel will be exploring what that should be at our Devo Question Time event in Leeds ‘Where next for Yorkshire’, which you would be welcome to attend. We are also hosting Devo Question Time events in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, with mayoral candidates and senior leaders and operators signed up for each. Please join them by clicking here.
Clearly Theresa ‘Maybe’ and Phillip Hammond will have bigger issues to contend with than new deals, but Sajid Javid has made clear that once the ten devo deals he inherited upon becoming CLG Secretary have been seen through to a conclusion there will be a fresh round of deals. Leaders and MPs from around the country will be looking to see what the first Metro Mayors promise, and once elected, start to achieve. In an era of taking back control might we expect calls for devolution of more central government functions: welfare, pensions, or even taxation. MPs this week have already suggested devolved immigration control for the UK’s nations and regions as reported later. With the prospect of those five Metro Mayors elected also working together to push for devolution 2.0 by the end of the year, 2017 promises to be radical – and interesting!