Devolving funding and taxation in the UK: a unique challenge
This article describes the centralised nature of the UK, briefly describes the changes now under way in Scotland and Wales and then analyses differences in output per head as between nations and regions. It then considers the scope for devolution, including fiscal devolution within England. The United Kingdom today is one of the most fiscally-centralised of all OECD countries, but there will soon be reform in Scotland and Wales, with significant devolution of tax-raising powers to Edinburgh and Cardiff. In England, there is currently no ‘state’ or ‘regional’ tier of government. There have been significant differences in GDP/GVA per head of the nations and regions of the UK for many decades. Efforts to ‘rebalance’ the GDP/GVA totals shown above have involved public expenditure and investment programmes over several decades. The results of the UK’s centralised distribution of resources, if any, on changes in regional and sub-regional performance are little studied. A highly-centralised system of taxation and public expenditure is not, it would appear, a guarantee of territorial economic equalisation. In a potentially radical policy departure, George Osborne has moved further than any minister in recent times towards a form of city-regional devolution within England. In the first instance, any devolved power is likely to be over public expenditure, though in the longer term fiscal devolution may become possible. The move towards a quasi-federal UK is now well under way.