Devolution and Reform

Devolved powers and funding give local areas a greater chance to shape their own destinies and after falling by the wayside in recent years, the devolution agenda is undergoing a reboot under this government’s flagship ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

The first bona fide county deals were announced in summer 2022 in the East Midlands and North Yorkshire, with further agreements following in Norfolk, Suffolk, Durham and Northumberland that year. The devolution dial has decisively shifted from a very urban-centric policy to one that has focused on county areas, and follows strong County Councils Network advocacy.

2023 yielded a further expansion of the agenda, with ‘Level 2’ agreements now on the table for areas where a directly-elected mayor or individual is unsuitable. Further mayoral deals were announced for Lincolnshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire. Looking into 2024 and beyond, the next government must maintain this momentum and explore offering further devolved powers, such as fiscal devolution.

Alongside devolution, some county areas have outlined that they wish to explore local government reorganisation. Somerset, Cumbria, and North Yorkshire all became unitary authorities in 2023, in addition to Dorset and Buckinghamshire in recent years.

For those pursuing that agenda, the County Councils Network’s agenda-setting evidence with PwC presents a compelling case to inform those areas considering reform and for government in assessing different proposals. CCN has also undertaken significant research to support those councils wishing to explore non-structural reform with their district councils through greater collaboration and functional reform of powers.


Devolution and Reform Key Asks

The present and next government must maintain the momentum on county devolution, and two-thirds of CCN members should have the opportunity to agree a deal by the end of this Parliament.

The suite of powers available for county areas should be on par, at least, with those offered to mayoral combined authorities.

Future devolution deals should also explore further measures beyond the Levelling Up Framework, such as fiscal devolution.

There should be a clear criteria for unitary reform. This should include confirmation of a minimum population limit ‘substantially more’ than 300,000 with no upper population limit; ensure proposals offer better public service delivery across the area; and provides the thresholds and tests of local consensus.

Set out a framework to encourage reform to the existing two-tier structure and greater collaboration in specific service areas, including the options for functional reform of powers between the tiers.

Latest News on Devolution and Reform

Latest Publications

Timelines: County Council Policies
Announcement Date: 25/03/2020