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New report shows policymakers how devolution can be implemented successfully

February 10, 2014

An excellent report (DecentralisationPaper – FINAL_0) by the Institute for Government on devolution has just been published. There is a great deal of interesting material here and should be required reading for any policymaker or indeed anyone with an interest in the whole devolution question . A number of particular points to pick out though:

P. 24. Devolve to appropriate units of power

power should be devolved to technically appropriate units. ‘Appropriateness’ typically relates to the policy objectives of the reform itself. For example, attempting to empower local areas to boost economic growth probably requires devolving power over economic enablers (e.g. skills funding, back-to-work programmes, transport and network infrastructure) to structures that span the functional economic geography of an area.

Also P.24  decentralise by creating a new layer of sub-national government as the vessel for decentralised powers.

Crucially, the creation of this layer should not be tied to the abolition of another, and powers should be transferred downwards from central government and its agencies, rather than upwards from existing sub-national political structures.

P.25  On ‘resistance from the public’

Implement reform before or without a vote

There have been attempts to overcome the problem of the status quo bias by giving voters experience of a reform prior to a vote. One way is to implement a limited form of the policy prior to the vote. For instance, it was originally proposed that existing local authority leaders could be converted into ‘shadow mayors’ in the run-up to the 2012 polls. A similar, but distinct way would be for a referendum to be held a period of time after the reform has been implemented.

However these methods would not deal with the problem of disengagement. Apathy or lack of information, combined with low-salience issues are likely to mean that the only people who can be relied on to turn out and vote in a referendum are those who feel strongly about it. Not only does this make the results unpredictable, it could also undermine the purpose of a referendum – to ‘lock in’ a reform through an unambiguous demonstration of public support. So another method to consider for overcoming this obstacle would be instead of offering a referendum, to simply implement reforms, albeit following principles of good policy making.




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One Comment
  1. Richard permalink

    One of the great tragedies of new Labour is that they did not impose elected regional government in the early 2000s when they so clearly had the political mandate to do so. Sadly the mess that was made of the process has left a long lingering taint which makes meaningful regional (or even sub-regional) devolution from London an even more difficult goal.

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