Thoughts on devolution governance: our new report and the support we can offer
Today (12th May) we are launching a major paper on devolution governance. It aims to explore all aspects of the preparation, negotiation and implementation of devolution deals – at every stage highlighting the key governance decisions to be made, and issues to be resolved.
The devolution debate so far has raised plenty of opportunities and issues, this paper now starts to move the debate on with possible answers.
Devolution must be accompanied by good governance, otherwise it is destined to fail. Good governance is about more than just the presence of a Mayor. It is about having a range of systems in place which collectively give everyone – members, officers, partners and the public – assurance and confidence that decisions are being made in a way that is accountable, transparent, and that involves the people affected.
As it stands, the creation of these systems is happening in a somewhat haphazard way. The timetable that Government is using to push through devolution deals to ensure that they can be announced to coincide with – for example – the Autumn Statement and the Budget is keeping up the momentum (critical for something as complex as this) but also means that important decisions and discussions around governance could be forgotten or curtailed.
Our research suggests several key issues:
- There is a “sequence” to the way that deals are developed – leading from the development of a rationale for the deal at the beginning, all the way through to its implementation – and that there are key governance, accountability and scrutiny tasks at every stage;
- There is a need to agree on the key characteristics of good governance under devolution, before structures are designed to fit around those characteristics. Things like flexibility, the importance of individual councils’ sovereignty, and a blend of formal and informal governance systems all seemed to be important;
- Sharing of information, and the transmission of views and opinions, is critical to success. There is a tendency towards secrecy in the way that the devolution process has developed. In part, this reflects a requirement imposed by Government, but even within those constraints there is more that local areas can do to secure buy-in from a far wider range of people.
These are all, we think, issues on which areas can take action immediately.
The paper goes into much more detail on exactly what this means at every stage of the process, and the specifics of how governance systems can be designed – and the public directly involved.
This work is the culmination of almost a year of detailed study on devolution governance across five areas in England.
As a result of this work we have gained a clearer picture about exactly how we might help other areas to tackle governance. Support can include:
- A devolution diagnostic which can: evaluate your devolution proposals from a governance perspective; help predict where flashpoints are likely to occur and how they might be overcome; support you to build in safety valves, to ensure that disagreement and discord does not result in the failure or undue delay of your negotiations, and can help you develop a robust process for managing relationships with government.
- Supporting the development of structural options. Our approach – focused on the development by combined authorities of a “governance framework” to decide how they will develop policy and monitor performance – provides a mechanism to manage and minimise disagreement with a clear, practical goal in mind. The discipline of the development of a governance framework will provide a foundation for weighing up different models, once an initial deal is signed off.
- Total process support – from start to finish. For areas who would appreciate the benefit of longer-term assistance, we can work with councils supporting your governance lead officer, lead member or members, provide support and assistance right from the agreement of the geographical footprint of any deal, through its agreement, to its coming into force. We can help you to manage disagreements and relationships, providing an independent voice to mediate where necessary.
As well as these three particular offers, we can also provide more tailored support.
All of this work draws on our thirteen years of experience working in the heart of local authorities’ decision-making systems. We also have an excellent network of partners and consultants to draw on.
If you are interested in speaking to us about how we might be able to help your area (either via the LGA funded support available to some councils or directly) to develop and agree governance arrangements which will be robust, transparent and high quality without being bureaucratic, please call Ed Hammond on 020 7187 7369 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.