Devolution 2: the missing link and the heart of our problem with it

The missing link is the cultivation of citizen participation and the development of structures and mechanisms for doing so, without which levels of accountability and alienation could be no better than before, for two reasons.

First, citizens have to wait until the next mayoral election to make their voices heard just as they do with local and general elections.

Secondly, people do not automatically feel more connected to local leaders because proximity is only one part of accessibility, which also involves visibility and approachability.” …

… While it is possible to argue that democratic structures could be developed after powers have been devolved, it makes more sense to set out ambitions for participation and accountability early on. These ambitions will affect which powers are needed and the governance arrangements of devolution agreements. For example, if the ambition is to use ‘pop-up parishes’ to design town- centre regeneration, then it may be necessary to devolve more power over planning and land use, and to ensure that proposalscan be tabled by citizen groups and not just by members of the combined authority leadership. …

… There is neither realism about the growth outcomes of devolution nor much concern about generating particular bene ts for local economic stakeholders, such as residents, local workers, and business owners. NEF’s work on local economies has shown that if cities are to ‘meet their full economic potential’13 in terms of benefiting local economic stakeholders, this will involve:

• Supporting people to be nancially strong individuals in terms of income-to-cost-of- living ratios and being able to have savings.

• Developing a strong local business sector with supply chains connecting small enterprise to big business.

• Making more ef client use of distribution of resources, with positive local circulation of money, low levels of wasted resources in local supply and production systems, a high level of staff retention in jobs, and falling levels of inequality and poverty.

In the documents, these sorts of economic outcome for local people are only rarely discussed. For example, reducing poverty is mentioned four times in a total of 1,129 arguments and cost of living is not mentioned at all. This is a gap in the debate. ‘More jobs’ is the overwhelming focus rather than ‘better jobs and wages’.

In current devolution agreements power remains firmly in the hands of Westminster who can revoke devolved functions and budgets in future if it is dissatis ed with progress, without clear criteria de ning success. Westminster will retain a stick with which to beat localities if they are not achieving outcomes desired by central government, perhaps especially economic growth and cost savings. This could prove restrictive rather than liberating. A Voluntary and Community Sector worker from Liverpool, for example, raised the concern that a devolution agreement for the Liverpool area would ‘cast a potentially narrow economic glow over our world’ and that the local government would be unable to prioritise non- economic outcomes which also matter to local people.

The devolution debate could go one of two ways. It could roll on in the backrooms of Westminster leading to opacity, confusion, and potentially falling public support for the policy.

Or it could be brought into the open, where there will be space for criticism and consideration of the downsides of devolution, as well as discussion of its potential to transform and strengthen our towns, cities and democracy. “

At last some straight talking on devolution

” … Should growth be the main goal?

Our research found that arguments for economic growth are weak at explaining how these outcomes would be achieved; they tend to focus on the benefits devolution would bring the national purse rather than the local economy. Devolution could improve the lives of local people, yet the current debate pays little attention to how this could be achieved.

How devolution would affect income-to-cost-of-living ratios, which affect everyone’s day to day economic reality, is seldom mentioned. The number of jobs that would be created is discussed far more often than the quality of jobs that would be created. Reducing poverty through economic growth is mentioned only four times in a total of 1,129 arguments.

Devolving fiscal and policy making powers to the local level over skills, housing, business rates and enterprise, could improve how the local economy works for its residents and local stakeholders. It could, for example, enable local government to better shape local business stock and promote resilience to external shocks through reasonable diversity in sectors, business size and ownership models. While economic growth may be one measure of success, it should not be pursued at the expense of other key economic and social goals that devolution could benefit.
Building a more democratic country

Creating a more democratic country seems an obvious aim for devolution but it is neglected by advocates of devolution, particularly in local government as Figure 2 shows. Discussions currently neglect the greater role citizens could play in political decision-making if decisions are made closer to home, but also the ways in which devolution could increase the accountability of elected leaders to the public. Simply creating elected mayors is not enough to revive an ailing democracy. This is why local governments should also be considering the mechanisms and structures for citizen participation which could make devolution worthwhile.

How can we change the debate?

We need to bring the debate into the open for public discussion, locally and nationally, so that everyday economic concerns like the quality of jobs created, and reducing inequality, feature strongly in discussions around what goals devolution should deliver.

So far, the debate has been conducted in the backrooms of Westminster rather than in public forums. Several parties in government have proposed a Constitutional Convention – a citizen forum where the governance of the country is discussed – but are yet to act on the proposal.

In the meantime, a group of academics and civil society groups have piloted this model in Sheffield and Southampton, showing how it would work. Drawing on examples from countries including Iceland, Canada, the Netherlands and Scotland, they show that the direct participation of local people in decision-making improves not only the democratic quality of decisions, but their effectiveness. It’s a match made in heaven for the devolution revolution.”

‘The briefing Democracy: the missing link in the devolution debate’ is available for download here:

Key findings:

Of the arguments made for devolution, 41.6% focus on achieving economic growth as the main justification for devolving power.

Only 12.9% of arguments make the case for devolution in order to shift power, strengthen democracy, and increase citizen involvement in decision-making.

Just 7.4% of arguments address inequalities in wealth and power between regions.

Environmental sustainability is part of just 0.8% of arguments.

Only 2.9% of arguments address the potential downsides and risks of devolution.

Local governments in particular seldom consider the impact of devolution on democracy, discussing democratic outcomes less than central government or think-tanks.

Hugo Swire still doing the hokey-cokey!

According to tonight’s BBC Spotlight news, only 2 South West MPs have not yet declared whether they are for or against staying in the EE: Jonny Mercer (Con Plymouth Moor View) and our own Hugo Swire.

Please Dave or please Boris. … oh, the agony. He will soon be down to flipping a coin.

Wonder whether his constituency party realised he was torn between the two and had no firm views on the EU when he was parachuted into East Devon? Did they even ask him his views on the EU? Probably not.

Still, if he throws himself behind Boris and Dave fires him, we might see more of him in East Devon.

“Planning policy discourages larger homes says housebuilder”

Forgive Owl being cynical but larger homes sell for more money and make more profit for the builder! And why does “empty nesting” need larger homes?

“One of the UK’s biggest housebuilders has hit out at government planning policy as new figures emerged showing a steady decline in the number of larger family homes being built.

The number of homes constructed with four bedrooms or more halved between 2001 and 2011, from around 50,000 to 25,000, research carried out by law firm Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners and Cala Homes found.

Since 1991, only 28pc of new homes built have had four bedrooms or more, which Cala blamed on rules that require developers to build a minimum of 30 dwellings per hectare, favouring smaller homes.

The housebuilder warned that with the rise of the UK’s middle classes and a growing trend among the nation’s ageing population for “empty nesting”, more home owners are now demanding larger houses. It claimed more than 700,000 households in England are overcrowded.

Price inflation for large detached family homes has significantly outpaced that of other housing types over the last 20 years, further putting the squeeze on families looking to move up the housing ladder.

Recent government policy has focused on boosting housing supply for first time buyers through new initiatives such as the Help to Buy scheme, which provides mortgage guarantees and equity, and Starter Homes.

Cala wants the Government to review housing policy to give large home development at least equal weighting to that of smaller homes – saying it is currently too biased towards first time buyers. It also criticised the Government’s strategy to encourage older or single people to downsize, saying the policy will never contribute sufficient numbers of homes to affect housing supply.

Alan Brown, chief executive of Cala, said the policies failed to meet “the real demands of growing families across the country”.”