Devolution is 'piecemeal and incoherent', says former head of the civil service


A coherent set of ‘guiding principles’ is urgently needed to stabilise the Union and help overcome decades of centralisation and the piecemeal progress of devolution, a new report has said.

A cross-party panel chaired by former civil service head Lord Kerslake says the UK must address the major constitutional challenges it faces and take radical action, regardless of the outcome of June’s referendum on EU membership.

In its report, the All-Party Political Group (APPG) on Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution in the UK argues that a significant shift of power from national to local level is essential as part of a far more coherent and ambitious approach to devolution that includes much greater fiscal autonomy.

Among the fiscal reforms recommended for local government in England, and possibly by devolved governments, is the devolution of those specific areas of funding that, through [devolution deals], 'have been identified as "devo-ready", for example skills and transport funding’.

Lord Kerslake

Lord Kerslake, who chaired the inquiry, said: ‘Greater devolution has the potential to deliver a stronger economy, better services and a stronger Union. But what we are doing now is piecemeal and incoherent.

‘Better and successful devolution across the whole UK cannot happen without a willingness to embrace radical and far reaching change. While the Government has made progress with the devolution agenda, a more coherent and ambitious approach is needed if we are to tackle the constitutional challenge this country faces.’

The paper recommends a wide-ranging national debate or ‘bigger conversation’ about how the UK is governed, including discussion on electoral reform, lowering the voting age to 16 and the role of the House of Lords.

It argues that devolution will only succeed if the public see that their local areas – not Whitehall - are leading on it, and says there should be no limits put on what might be devolved.

It recommends that devolution to local government should be enshrined, with a possible ‘super majority’, if Parliament is to pass any Bill that enables recentralisation.

It also recommends:

  • freedom to set charges such as planning fees locally
  • releasing councils from caps on borrowing for new housing
  • exploring the devolution of property taxes
  • a further major devolution package for London
  • agreement on what functions remain reserved at a UK level
  • an annual a progress report to Parliament on how Whitehall is reforming to support devolution allowing local areas to hold a referendum on their preferred voting system

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