Report slams lack of ‘strategic thinking’ on devolution

Committee finds policy has developed in an 'ad hoc fashion'



Governments of all colours have been found guilty of failing to provide ‘strategic thinking’ about the development of devolution.

That’s the conclusion of a report published today by the cross-party House of Lords Constitution Committee on devolution and the Union.

Declaring that there has been

‘no guiding strategy or framework of principles to ensure that devolution develops in a coherent or consistent manner and in ways which do not harm the Union’,

it warns that devolution has, as a result,

‘developed in an ad hoc fashion, with different constitutional conversations taking place separately in different parts of the country’.

The report singles out especially cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin for criticism, expressing ‘regret’ that he

‘does not recognise the concerns expressed… at the pressures being placed on the UK constitution by the manner in which the devolution of powers has taken place, and continues to take place, with little consideration of the status and needs of the Union’.

Members of the committee call for the government to commission a ‘thorough evaluation of the impact on the Union and its constituent nations of the cumulative effect of the devolution settlements and its plans for decentralisation within England’ following the passage of the Wales Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The report calls also for the ‘inadequate’ Barnett Formula, used to determine allocations to the devolved notions, to be replaced with a ‘needs-based’ system for the allocation of funds to the nations and regions.

It also expresses strong opposition to any proposal for full fiscal autonomy to be given to any constituent nations of the UK, arguing that it would ‘break the Union apart’.

Publishing the report, committee chair, the former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Lang of Monkton, declared that it was time to ‘stop taking the Union for granted’ and argued that the government ‘does not seem to recognise the pressures being placed on the United Kingdom by the ad hoc, reactive manner in which devolution has taken place, and continues to take place’.

He continued:

‘UK Governments have failed to adapt to devolution. We urgently need ‘a new mindset’ within Government.

Devolved competencies now cover so many areas of public responsibility that the delivery of government policies often requires collaboration between the UK and devolved governments. This is not yet being done effectively.

Instead of the ‘devolve and forget’ attitude of the past, the UK Government should be engaging with the devolved administrations across the whole breadth of government policy.

Not interfering, but co-operating and actively managing the cross-border and UK-wide implications of differing policy and service delivery choices.

Shared and overlapping policy areas need to be handled sensibly, with each administration conscious of the interests of the others.’

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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