Devolution and local government reforms

The first part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is to do with devolution, although the media seems to have avoided the topic as it is complex and not that controversial. The Government is wanting to devolve powers and budgets to the regions, to push power closer to the voters.

Devolution is not new with a number of combined authorities already in existence. These include London, Liverpool, Manchester, West Midlands and Cambridge & Peterborough. The most recent deal is the North East, concluded in December, worth £1.4 billion. Norfolk and Suffolk have also agreed to a £500 million deal with mayoral elections in May 2024.

Higher tier authorities (unitaries and counties) have been asked to come forward with proposals for devolution deals on one of three levels:

  1. Functional economic area with councils collaborating
  2. Single body or combined authority without a mayor
  3. Single body or combined authority with a mayor

The combined authority with a mayor will have the most powers devolved, with more money. Areas of devolution cover economy, skills and environment, housing, transport and infrastructure, but each deal will be different, following negotiations with DLUHC. Key areas will be skills & training, transport and special planning. Health is also on the agenda, as the different agencies need to be linked up, especially the NHS and social care as this is a key cause of bed blocking with knock-on effects throughout healthcare.

Apart from devolution, the aim is to make different authorities and agencies work better together with common aims and objectives. There was a manifesto commitment in 2019 to reform local government, which the Government is still committed to. This may not be local government reform, although it may well be a precursor to it.  The Levelling Up Bill is currently in the House of Lords and about to have its 2nd reading before going into the committee stage.