Effective devolution

| Publication date: 30 Oct 2019 | Theme: Macroeconomics, Exiting the EU | NIESR Author(s): Armstrong, A | Journal: National Institute Economic Review Issue 250 | Publisher: Sage Publications, London

Brexit creates deep challenges for the UK’s structure of governance; not least concerning the degree and manner in which powers are devolved within one of the most centralised countries in the world. Departing from the EU is likely to exacerbate regional inequalities and possibly social divide, while at the same time leading to further centralisation of powers, at least in the short term. Most Brexit analysis looks at the reorientation of the UK’s external relationships, but the most significant impact may be on its internal constitutional affairs.

While it is generally agreed that the UK needs more devolution, there is little discussion about how and why it sometimes succeeds, but also sometimes falls short of expectations. Ever since Adam Smith it has been known that economic prosperity, justice, and social cooperation are mutually reinforcing. Therefore, policy must be built around community and a sense of belonging, rather than a collection of anonymous individuals. The Core Design Principles set out by Elinor Ostrom provide a framework to transform governance structure at every level from the smallest communities all the way to parliament. 

Necessary institutional changes include giving local authorities much greater control over revenue-raising powers and therefore the services they wish to support. National legislatures must have the power to borrow for investment without limit, but with sole responsibility for repayment, to enhance local political accountability. A statutory body should be established, including representatives of the devolved assemblies and English regions, to address regional disparities, and there should be a much stronger regional presence in decision-making by HM Treasury and the Bank of England.