Whitehall’s ‘unwritten rules’ could see counties lose out in devolution

A new report, published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has argued that English counties risk being obstructed from the devolution process due to the government’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. 

The report, Empowering Counties: Unlocking county Devolution Deals, found counties represent 41 per cent of the English economy and are home to more active businesses than any other part of country. 

The study also shows that counties cover 86 per cent of England’s landmass, representing half the country’s population, and has seen a 26 per cent rise in new businesses. 

The report urges the government to make its devolution agenda more transparent and flexible. In addition, the study advises that Whitehall should accept that county devolution requires a different approach to cities. 

Furthermore, IPPR highlight that the government’s demand for elected-mayors in exchange for devolved power is more suited to core cities and is unrealistic for complex multi-tiered counties. 

The think tank also counsels that counties should include the public and local enterprise partnerships in the devolution deal, opening themselves up to greater accountability. 

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: “Counties need devolution every bit as much as the big cities and, with the right support and empowerment, there is a massive opportunity to unleash their economic potential.

“Devolution deals can drive economic development, but the process needs far more understanding and flexibility from government to work for the counties, who have different needs and organisational structures. The danger otherwise is a one-size-fits-all approach to mayors meaning huge swathes of the country are cut off from the benefits of devolution, stymieing their potential to grow and reform public services."

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