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. “

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