CLES on achieving genuine progressive devolution
The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) have launched a new series of provocations, ‘CLES on…’, drawing on their thirty years’ experience of ‘working to develop stronger local economics for people, planet and place’. The first in the series is on devolution, exploring the challenges it faces and ways to progress towards ‘the genuine transfer of power to people, communities and local democratic bodies, within a national system of fairness’.
Declaring that ‘English devolution is failing – both as a process and in terms of its outcomes’, the provocation explores English devolution’s recent history: beginning with the coalition government’s (2010-2015) ‘confused and convoluted’ attempt at city regional devolution, which it claims has seen local city regions, after ‘tortuous and fraught’ negotiations, sign agreements ‘with only some decentralisation of power and resources from Whitehall’.
CLES outlines some of the reasons devolution is currently ‘failing to provide meaningful action on social, economic and environmental injustice’: it has been conducted within ‘a process of unprecedented Treasury controlled public sector austerity’, with little concern for social or environmental return. It also cites the ‘significant rhetoric, spin and rebranding of existing infrastructure resources’ such as the Northern Powerhouse, and the focus of ‘advancing economic growth in areas which already have growth’, while poorer places are expected to benefit through a ‘trickle down‘ in wealth.
The provocation then goes on to set out recommendations for change. It claims that devolution has created ‘new institutional and governance confusion, without tackling the fundamental issues of power and wealth’. A ‘new constitutional conversation for England’ is now required, to draw the country together to consider a coherent and enduring plan for reform, ‘reshaping local government so that it sits alongside central government’, and a citizen assembly.
It also recommends creating ‘a new national process of redistribution to deal with longstanding regional economic imbalances, and ensure a more level platform for all areas’, coupled with new local tax powers. Claiming that ‘civil society, social action and democracy are the basis to a productive, inclusive economy and society’, it recommends ‘devolving more power to people and citizens’ by ‘accelerating existing experiments in participative democracy’. Finally, CLES calls for a ‘local Green New Deal’, delivering a just transition through the principles of community wealth building, ‘to engage local citizens in a piece by piece attack on extractive fossil capitalism’.
Read the full report here.