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Devolution deals damaged by ‘endless tinkering’ by central government

“Endless tinkering” with government policy and reorganisation has done damage to regional devolution deals, a report by Institute for Government (IfG) has warned, arguing that the current government’s lack of support for devolution could signal “yet another change of direction in the drive for regional governance that works”.

The review looked into the rapid rate of change to government policies and how this had affected many sectors, including regional government, as well as industrial strategy and further education.

The reason for the changes, or ‘churn’ as the IfG called it, could be put down to a number of factors, including disagreement about the purpose of regional governments, as well as around the appropriate spatial level to which to devolve powers and Whitehall’s unwillingness to trust existing local institutions.

“In the space of just over 20 years, the main vehicles for regional governance have included government offices, regional assemblies, regional development agencies and, currently, local enterprise partnerships,” the report stated.

“The governance of public services has been so continually rearranged that scholars have termed the phenomenon ‘redisorganisation’.”

The institute identified a number of other issues as blocking the way for reform. For example, it argued citizens were unsure about the role of regional governance, explaining: “On the one hand, there is some evidence that citizens instinctively feel the existence of regional bodies that can engage businesses is likely to be good for local economic prospects.

“On the other hand, citizens have opposed more government bureaucracy and, in the past, rebuffed attempts to introduce elected assemblies at a regional level.”

Emma Norris, IfG programme director, said: “The sheer scale of change to these key government policy areas is astounding – not just because of the costs incurred, but also the effect on people’s lives.”

Norris called on central government to “safeguard” against wasting more time, money and resources on endless changes that result in “little progress”.

“This churn is not simply a result of changes in government. It highlights persistent weaknesses in our system of government: the tendency to change and to recreate rather than commit to stable, well-evidenced policy,” she concluded.

DCLG were contacted for comment by PSE, but at the time of writing had not sent a response. 

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