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IFG - The next government must extend devolution to 85% of England to deliver meaningful and balanced economic growth

The next government must extend the English devolution map to tackle the economic underperformance of England’s cities and regions away from London

A new Institute for Government paper says the next government must extend the English devolution map to at least 85% of the population to tackle the economic underperformance of England’s cities and regions away from London.

A new deal for England: How the next government should complete the job of English devolution, published yesterday, calls on the next government to reset the English devolution agenda and puts forward 30 proposals – which can and should be implemented over the next five years – to complete a “job half done” with a new deal for England.

Metro mayors have already shown how they can improve regional economic performance – by improving transport systems, investing in training for the jobs of the future or leading major urban renewal projects. But the map of English devolution is an incomplete patchwork of mismatched deals, the powers and funding devolved are still inadequate for the job at hand, and the entire devolution agenda is vulnerable to shifting Westminster priorities.

Completing the English devolution map, expanding the powers of existing mayors and putting devolution on a firmer footing would help a Conservative government revitalise its stalled levelling up objectives or a Labour government achieve its long-term mission to deliver sustained growth.  

The new IfG paper says that over the course of the next parliament the next government should: 

  • Extend devolution to at least 85% of England’s population, with devolution to England’s remaining large urban areas – such as Leicester and Southampton – prioritised in the first half of the parliament. 
  • Publish a complete and final map of the boundaries for English devolution – with boundaries determined by reference to a clear decision-making framework.  
  • Expand the ‘trailblazer’ devolution offer to Greater Manchester and West Midlands to include strategic spatial planning, employment support, apprenticeships levy funding and R&D budgets, with greater spending flexibility than current rules allow. 
  • Agree a new wave of trailblazer deals, incorporating ‘single departmental settlement’ funding, in places like Liverpool City Region, West and South Yorkshire, the North East and Tees Valley. 
  • Trial tax-sharing with leading combined authorities, for instance by devolving a small share of national insurance revenue, to strengthen incentives for local leaders to boost job creation. 
  • Legislate to put devolution on a firmer statutory footing, with a legal right for all parts of England to take on devolved powers. 
  • Hold a Prime Minister-Metro Mayors summit held within two months of taking office – and on an annual basis thereafter – and a new set of minister-mayoral committees in key policy areas, to send a signal that metro mayors are important strategic partners for government.  
  • Review the electoral system for mayoral elections – with a view to the replacement of first-past-the-post with the supplementary or alternative vote system. 

Report author and IfG programme director Akash Paun said: 

“Metro mayors are now well-established leaders of place in England’s biggest urban regions – but we are still in the early stages of the devolution journey. Whoever is prime minister a year from now will have a historic opportunity to move beyond the current patchwork of deals and put in place a more coherent and durable settlement for England as a whole.”

Thomas Pope, report author and IfG deputy chief economist, said: 

“English cities outside of London are not fulfilling their economic potential, dragging down overall UK economic performance. Devolving the right economic powers, like skills and transport, to combined authorities should help areas develop coherent economic strategies and grow faster in the long term. Providing more powers, such as over employment support, R&D and planning to current mayors should be a high priority for any government that wants to improve national growth.” 

Notes to editors

1.    The full report is attached and can be found here:
2.    The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.  
3.    For more information, including data to reproduce any charts, please contact / 0785 031 3791

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