Is devolution the solution?

Zak Mudie considers the benefits of devolution for the UK

Zak Mudie
26th February 2021
Image: Queen Mary University of London
To add to the mounting pile of comments, Boris Johnson will certainly regret his recent statements on Scottish devolution.

Make no mistake, the Prime Minister was hinting at something worth considering. Devolution has allowed the Scottish National Party (SNP) to stir up an independence cry and dominate Scottish politics while ignoring the main issues. Topics such as premature mortality, where the difference between those in affluent areas and deprived areas is at the highest point since 2008, has been neglected in their efforts. Child homelessness has also been glossed over – a mark of ignorance for a cause that has risen by 6% between 2019-2020. In real terms, this means that, as of January 2020, 7252 children have been living in temporary accommodation. Let’s not forget that Scotland also suffers from the highest drug death rate in Europe. The successes of Scotland’s devolution has certainly been questionable, but arguably the principle of devolution for a less separatist purpose may be key to levelling up the rest of the UK.

Though the success of Scotland's devolution has been questionable - devolution may be a key mechanism in Boris Johnson's 'levelling up' agenda

The delegation of power from a central government to a local administration is a practice used by many countries around the world. Its roots are arguably linked to feudalism, an economic system in which land was managed by Dukes going down to Mayors, and now it manifests itself in central governments handing over key powers to local administrations such as the Scottish Parliament, or the City of London. The latter example is a far better picture of what devolution in England, and across the rest of the UK, could look like. The creation of a local administration headed by an executive, with a legislature to uphold checks and balances is the textbook model of a political system and can be applied on both a large and small scale. Newcastle is within one of these local administrations: the “North of Tyne Combined Authority” which combines Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle local governments all under the banner of a single authority headed by an elected ‘Metro Mayor’.

Arguably, the system of devolution finds it roots in feudalism - but the City of London is a great example of how successful this mode of governance can be

Why is this important? Well for one, it means that voters have more influence on local affairs. With an executive headed by the Mayor, voters have a figure which they can vote for or against should they dislike the actions of the Mayor, which is different to those in Gateshead who can vote on a single councillor out of 66, exercising very little influence on their local area.

Devolution gives voters more influence on specific and local affairs

Aside from voting, local powers are an efficient and representative system to improve local governance. The Single Investment Fund which is used by the North of Tyne Combined Authority, can invest up to £600 million over 30 years, allowing for economic stimulus into the projects and businesses that is needed here, something bureaucrats in Whitehall would not be able to manage. The local authorities are supporting businesses in the current economic climate, but it seems that the single purpose of the local authority is limited to business investment, when there should be a much larger spread of powers. The more power a local authority has, the more power the local people have over their issues at home. The centralisation of power in a single location, on the premise that a small elite in London know how to run our lives in our local communities better than we do is not only insulting but completely untrue.

In absence of this system, communities become overly reliant on the 'Westminster Bubble' for economic stimuli

Devolution on education, taxation, business regulation, government aid, welfare, energy and environmental policy are some of the next steps in allowing a local populace to push an agenda which suits their specific local needs, not the needs of a political programme pushed by southern bureaucrats. So, without the separatism, devolution is in my opinion the key to levelling up the country, putting the responsibility on local leaders, which in many cases will be a cost effective and far more efficient plan. It’s time to hand over power, spread the wealth of government throughout the UK’s regional administrations and step up with investing in the people and future of the whole country.

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