Commissioned by the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE) and building on CCN’s research with IPPR in 2015, the report Rebooting Devolution: A Common Sense Approach to Taking Back Control analyses devolution in metropolitan areas and outlines a case for county devolution to be ambitious, based on existing county geographies and for empowered leadership by for county authorities.
The report argues for:
• A common-sense approach to devolution and local government that uses the UK’s county geography as a basic building block for devolution. Starting with the county geography arguably represents the most common-sense way to marry the principle of scale without wholesale change to established boundaries and working relationships for three important reasons:
Scale: Put simply, size matters. In their proposals for devolution, local areas should be able to show that they are able to develop and deliver shared strategic priorities that are best addressed at a scale above local boundaries. Most county areas can demonstrate considerable scale and have sizeable populations and substantial economies that are comparable to many city regions
Co-terminosity: Working at a county geography ensures coordination of strategic planning between urban and rural areas. Counties are of a geographic scale that is similar to that of other key strategic partnerships such as Local Enterprise Partnerships.
History & Place: The geography of counties is recognised within the popular imagination and is also reflected in existing institutional arrangements in public services.
• A clear framework for devolution of a menu of powers, based upon discrete packages or stages. This includes a more ambitious approach to devolution would include, over time and in parallel to appropriate governance reforms, a) a systematic approach to fiscal devolution b) much broader powers to drive sustainable economic growth c) a commitment to devolving health commissioning as well as powers over education and schools policy, the welfare and the benefits system, and crime, policing and the probation system.
• A possible basic framework for governance. This consists of possible alternative models, some of which have already been established through precedent and recommendations on how governance could be strengthened and expanded in proportion to new powers received. The report puts forward alternative models, including a ‘County reform’ model which places county councils in two-tier areas as the legal body for devolved powers or consideration of new unitary structures. The report argues that in two-tier areas, a county council is a strategic-level body that covers a sizeable population, often with a degree of co-terminosity with other public services and therefore already fulfils some of the same criteria as a metropolitan combined authority.
You can download to the full report here.
Responding to the report, Cllr Paul Carter CBE, Chairman of the County Councils Network, said:
“Building on CCN’s previous work with IPPR, this report rightly argues that counties have the size, scale, expertise, and coterminosity with key partner organisations to make a success of devolution, using county geographies as the springboard to deliver better and more localised services for our residents.
“Counties’ ambition for devolution deals has never diminished. In the context of the Government’s aspiration to create a more balanced and productive economy, Westminster should place its faith in the strong local leadership already displayed in rural England, and remove the arbitrary requirement for a metro-mayor.”
“Counties make the biggest contribution to the national economy, yet have been blighted by years of under investment in infrastructure, historical underfunding, and skills and growth policies that have been too centralised. The Government’s Industrial Strategy will be the perfect opportunity to move to the next stage of devolution, and ensure that county residents and business have the opportunity to benefit.
“The report also suggests that unitary authorities are a viable alternative to mayoral combined authorities, citing Cornwall. The evidence from EY’s independent report on reorganisation clearly shows that a unitary authority on an existing county footprint saves 68% more than alternative proposals. If reform was to take place, this model also provides the best platform for securing growth, devolution, and public service reform at scale.”