Written evidence from Dr Keith Tapp (EDE 28)
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
The Evolution of Devolution: English Devolution
1. Should there be comprehensive reform of the English devolution and local government system?
There are two parts to this answer.
There should be comprehensive reform of the English devolution to achieve a fully devolved England in the same way that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are devolved parliaments. Completion of such a devolution would create an English Parliament (that is separate from Westminster and housed in a purpose built building in the midlands) and have the effect of creating a small supranational parliament and secretariat which functions from Westminster as an internationally facing executive above the four nations. This supranational parliament comprises the leaders of each of the four nations.
Comprehensive reform of the existing local government system is not necessary to achieve devolution of powers and resources to the local government level. It is accepted that there is no single optimal model of local government that would suit the variety of English regions and local needs. Nor is it desirable to require reorganisation as a precursor to devolution, which has been shown to be a major impediment to the limited attempts at English devolution tried so far.
2. What aims and principles should underpin devolution in England?
The aims underpinning devolution in England should be:
The principles that should underpin devolution in England are
3. Should devolution in England use the reserved powers to bring it in line with devolution in the rest of the UK?
Yes. Every power to make law not specifically devolved to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be reserved to a supranational parliament in Westminster. This creates a need for a supranational constitution that defines an agreed framework for devolved competence to the four countries.
4. To what extent should there be consistency in devolved and local governance within England, and to what extent is asymmetry necessary?
Strategic authorities come in different shapes and sizes and to this extent asymmetry is necessary. Consistency in devolved and local governance arrangements is not required for devolution to be successful. “The government must show genuine commitment to a range of different models of governance and be responsive to the creative solutions being developed in counties” (IPPR).
5. What is the purpose of current the “devolution” deals and mechanisms? Are these purposes being achieved?
The purpose of the current devolution deals has been to demonstrate that local authorities could deliver certain ‘delegated’ services to meet the needs of its local communities with the budgets allocated to them for this purpose. These purposes have been achieved. Local authorities are eager for proper devolution of responsibility and budgets to deliver services for their residents in accordance with locally identified needs.
6. How should decisions on English devolution be agreed?
Decisions on the devolution of England are exclusively a matter for English MPs in Westminster. Decisions on the common framework of devolved competencies under a reserved powers model should be agreed collaboratively by Westminster and the four nations equally once England has been devolved. A Devolution Commission will be instituted for this purpose. The Devolution Commission would have a responsibility for agreeing a constitution that clearly outlines what powers are reserved to the supranational parliament and what powers are devolved to the four nations.
7. How should the interests of different parts or regions of England be better represented to central government and in intergovernmental arrangements as well as in Parliament?
The possible mechanisms for representing the interests of different parts of England to an English parliament are an entirely different kind of devolution question to the question of English devolution question discussed at Item 6 (above). There are in fact two kinds of devolution that need to be discussed separately.
English devolution is a matter of England’s parity with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as a nation and the creation of a parliament for England.
Devolution of responsibility, powers and resources to local authorities within England to deliver laws and services that are currently the prerogative of Westminster is an entirely different matter. Devolution to local authorities in each nation would be a matter for each national parliament. In the case of England’s parliament, the cabinet office of the English parliament should, in consultation with leaders from each English local authority, convene an intergovernmental body to negotiate and determine a framework of devolved competence for local governments in England with respect to the English parliament. Each local authority leader, including the national English parliament leader should have one vote each to equalise the powers of the English parliament with respect to the local authorities. Many federalised political systems or indeed European and international meetings of government leaders provide suitable models for intergovernmental representations of this type.
Such a forum for intergovernmental decision-making would be organised collaboratively and transparently. The current arrangement where central government sets the rules and asks local authorities to bid for what has been offered is not suitable.
8. Is there a public demand for such structures/measures? On what basis should the form, geography and extent of devolved regions or areas be determined, and what should be the role of culture and identity?
Public satisfaction with the integrity and representativeness of Local authorities as they currently exist are suitable for the purposes of English devolution immediately. Extensive polling exists to demonstrate that there is no public demand for additional political layers at a local or regional levels and these are not necessary to facilitate the progress of purely devolution of power to local level.