The Government needs to be clearer about what its ‘high risk’ devolution agenda is trying to achieve, MPs have said.
In a new report, the Commons Public Account Committee (PAC) highlights what it calls the continued failure of central government to define its objectives for devolution in England.
Central government 'must define its objectives for English devolution'
The report says the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) ‘needs to be clearer about what it is trying to achieve through the devolution agenda’.
PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said: ‘Devolution in England has significant implications for the lives of millions of people. Yet even at this late stage, and despite concerns raised by us and others in Parliament, the Government still has serious questions to answer.’
Reflecting repeated complaints from councillors about a lack of clarity and coherence, the report says: ‘If it is not clear to elected representatives, how can it be clear to local citizens and service users who are the ones directly affected by these reforms?’
MPs say the DCLG ‘needs to more demonstrably understand the link between devolution and economic growth, adding: ‘Devolution is being considered in isolation, with less importance placed on housing, land, education and skills, which play key roles in promoting economic growth.’
The report also warns that ministers ‘must ensure that the benefits derived from devolution are for all local areas and that we do not see a form of “local centralism” where power and decision making sits in the dominant city heart of a combined authority’.
The committee reiterates its concerns about scrutiny, transparency and accountability within the devolution agenda, arguing that ‘taxpayers must be able to understand who is spending their money, how that money is allocated and where responsibility lies if the system fails to deliver good value or things go wrong’.
MPs say this included the 'opaque' nature of accountability for the activities of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), which are now negotiating local growth deals funded by £12bn over a five-year period, including a further £1.8bn next year announced in the Autumn Statement.
The comments follow a newspaper investigation that showed apparently lax controls over LEP spending, with officials overseeing hundreds of payments to companies in which they or their colleagues have an interest.
Last month the DCLG announced a new national assurance framework for LEPs, ‘to reflect current policy and current expectations of LEPs in relation to accountability, transparency and value for money’.