External auditor reports on risks of combined authorities

“In July, the NAO published its report on Progress in setting up combined authorities which concludes that for combined authorities to deliver real progress they will need to demonstrate that they can drive economic growth and contribute public sector reform.

These authorities have inherently complex structures and are not uniform.

They vary in the extent of the devolution deals they have struck with government. The combined authority with the greatest degree of devolution, Greater Manchester, has now absorbed control over the office of the police and crime commissioner and fire and rescue services.

Others are currently primarily focused on transport issues, as well as housing and regeneration.

The report highlights a number of risks including:

— local councillors will have limited capacity for the overview and scrutiny of combined authorities. Furthermore, in May 2017, six mayors were elected to combined authorities in England, with candidates having campaigned on manifestos which frequently made policy commitments beyond the current remits of these organisations. This raises the question of whether mayors can be credible local advocates if they only deal with the limited issues under the remit;

— a number of authorities have been unable to bring local authorities together to establish combined authorities, while areas with a long history of working together have often found it most straightforward to establish combined authorities;

— the capacity of most combined authorities is currently limited and the lack of geographical coherence between most combined authorities and other providers of public services could make it more problematic to devolve more public services in the future;

— if the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union (EU) results in reductions in regional funding, the economic regeneration role of combined authorities would become more pressing. Combined authorities are generally in areas which receive the most EU funding. The North West, for example, is scheduled to receive in excess of 1 billion euros in European Regional Development Funds, European Social Fund, and Youth Employment allocations between 2014 and 2020.”

The report is available on the NAO website at:


page 41