Our new report on devolution governance

Posted on 07/12/2016 by Ed Hammond. Tags: ,

Last week, we published our latest piece of research on devolution governance: “Governance and devolution: charting the way“. Despite the uncertainty around the direction of the devolution agenda itself, areas around England are working hard to have robust systems for decision-making and accountability in place by May 2017, when a number of them will have Mayoral elections.

These areas have all experienced hurdles they’ve needed to overcome. Working through relationships with Government has, for some, been tricky. Thinking about the relationship which will apply between the Mayor and the Combined Authority has provoked some areas to think of ways to keep the roles of those two institutions clearly separate, even though in reality those dividing lines might be difficult to maintain. Securing broad member and public buy-in remains a preoccupation – particularly given the recent experiences in some areas with adverse votes at full Council meetings effectively scuppering some deals. The resourcing of effective governance remains a concern, and presents a risk to how scrutiny at combined authorities will be formulated and delivered.

All of these challenges need addressing and tackling to a greater or lesser extent in every area. We have found that most areas have attempted to take a pragmatic approach here – trying to put safeguards and systems into place but that some of the detail (particularly on day-to-day working) needing to wait until after May for agreement.

This is because there can be no real national prescription for this work – no single approach which, if adopted, would lead to effective and robust governance everywhere. Everything depends on the content of the deal and the personalities of those involved in delivering it.

This places an onus on those at local level – especially non-executive councillors – to think creatively about how they expect governance to work for them and their residents. Scrutiny in particular will need to be more flexible and responsive than it might be at local level – and lighter touch. It may need to have a narrower focus , and to work in a different way to that which many will be used.

Our research was carried out by speaking to members and officers from across England, and by reviewing some of the local and national literature on the topic. We will be following it up in the New Year with a piece of guidance on overview and scrutiny in combined authorities.   

About the Author: Ed Hammond

Ed leads CfGS's work on devolution, transformation and on support to councils and other public bodies on governance and accountability.