Next-door neighbours – collaborative working across the London boundary

Local government obsesses about boundaries: we think they’re always wrong.  We spend hours, and pounds, looking at options for council reorganisation or Combined Authorities, and rarely agree where lines on maps should be drawn.  We seem intent on imposing our own version of order on a complex world which doesn’t respect those lines.

Nowhere is that more true than in and around our capital city. London’s economic and social networks stretch beyond the GLA’s administrative boundaries into neighbouring districts.  Nearly 900,000 people travel into London to work every day, about 1 in 6 of the capital’s total workforce.  Around 1 in 7 of workers living in the South East and East of England have their jobs in London.  Many more living outside the city’s boundary travel in for theatres, events and exhibitions, or just to shop, London residents head in the other direction, for similar reasons. Businesses have intimate links with suppliers and customers across the London boundary.  And none of them see that administrative boundary as a barrier, it’s irrelevant to everyday life.

Work with your neighbours is the key message of a report launched by the Centre for London and Southern Policy Centre on 24 January [1].  Our research, sponsored by the GLA, Hampshire and Surrey County Councils and the London-Stanstead-Cambridge Consortium, shows the intricate web of economic and social connections between London and neighbouring Counties and Districts.  It demonstrates how interdependent London and her hinterland are.

Our report highlights the common challenges we face.  The pressing need for more housing affects us all: the Government estimates that, over the next ten years London, the South East and East of England need to build over 150,000 new homes a year, yet in the past ten years the area has average just 75,000. The area surrounding London is also starved of funding, and so falling short in infrastructure investment: spending between 30% and 60% less than is needed, leading to a predicted shortfall in investment of over £10bn by the 2030s.  Yet that infrastructure is essential to keep the regional economy, including London, working.

The report also explores collaboration across the London boundary, and finds a very mixed picture.  Some local partnerships work well, and there is an emerging council-led partnership – the Wider South East Political Steering Group – which aims to bring together London Boroughs with their neighbouring shire councils.  But that partnership is in its early days and doesn’t yet have the buy-in of all who should be at the table, indeed some are unaware of its existence. Nor does it include influential bodies such as LEPs.

Our report encourages councils in and around London to strengthen the Wider South East partnership, without subsuming individual identities.  We suggest that partnership should build a shared vision and lead a more integrated approach to tackling shared challenges: housing, infrastructure, the economy.  The draft London Plan, currently out to consultation, should catalyse closer collaboration.  A shared vision and voice is particularly important as our big regional cities build increasingly powerful combined authorities.

Central Government must also play its part.  Policy making should acknowledge the Wider South East: perhaps the area needs its own Ministerial champion.  Centralised mechanisms for funding housing and infrastructure investment need to recognise the case for strategic investment across boundaries.

With the Industrial Strategy and Budget showing the Government intends to channel significant investment towards Mayoral Combined Authorities and other place-based partnerships, the case for that closer collaboration across the Wider South East is becoming unarguable.  If our Councils, LEPs, Universities and other major players cannot convince the Government we can deliver in partnership, then we risk losing investment in skills, infrastructure and housing.

No re-drawn boundary is ever going to reflect how London and her neighbours depend on one another.  The only solution is to build a partnership which allows the Wider South East to thrive. In the words of singer Jack Johnson “It’s always better when we’re together”.

[1] Next Door Neighbours: Collaborative Working Across the London Boundary – Centre for London/Southern Policy Centre, January 2018: Centre for London_Next-doors Neighbours Report

Rail passengers in southern England forced to subsidise passengers in rest of Britain

Rail passengers in southern England are being forced to subsidise passengers in rest of Britain – paying 16p a mile more than the cost of running their service

In 2016/17 South West Trains (SWT) passenger were forced to pay 16.6p per mile travelled more than the cost of running the service.  (The overpayment totals £662m.)  Passengers on Southern trains paid 10.5p per mile more than the cost of running their service.  At the same time passengers in northern England, Scotland and Wales receive huge subsidies, up to more than 40p per mile.

With rail passengers facing the largest fare increases for five years, new analysis by the Southern Policy Centre reveals how the burden of paying for the UK rail system falls unfairly on passengers in central southern England, who are being forced to pay a premium in order to reduce ticket costs for passengers in other parts of the UK.

Professor John Denham, Chair of the Southern Policy Centre said:

‘Rail passengers in the south are not only being asked to pay for their own rail journeys, but are being forced to subsidise rail services across the rest of England, Scotland and Wales. There may well be a good case for subsidising some services but, if there is, surely the cost should fall on taxpayers as a whole, not just on one group of passengers in one small part of the country?’

‘If local passengers were treated fairly, the cost of their season ticket would be falling, not rising.’ 


The study uses data from the Office of Rail and Road to identify the key payments that finance the rail system.  Train operating companies (TOCs) have a franchise from the Department for Transport (DfT) that determines how much passengers pay.  Government subsidies to rail operators fall into three discrete categories:

(1) The net franchise payment or subsidy measures how much passengers pay, or are subsidised, for the basic running costs of their service.

In 2016-17, every single passenger on South West Trains paid the government 16.6p per mile more than the cost of running their service.  This was up 16% from 14.3p in both 2014/15 and 2015/16.  The total subsidy paid was £662m – which accounts for 55% of the entire total subsidy paid by operators of £1.19bn.

On the same basis, Southern rail passengers paid 10.5 per mile ‘too much’ in 2015-16.  (A change of ownership after 2015/16 means comparable figures for the most recent year are not available).

By contrast, passengers in the north, Scotland and Wales received subsidies of between 8p and 17p per mile, amounting to a total cash subsidy of £625m.

(2) The revenue support/share is a payment made by or to the TOC depending on whether the company does better or worse than the franchise agreement.  In 2016-17 SWT was paid £275m by the DfT.   Passengers do not benefit directly from this payment, but the SPC analysis shows that even if it is regarded as a subsidy, SWT passengers were still paying 9.7p per mile more than the cost of the service.

(3) Finally, the DfT makes network grants to cover the capital costs of improvements to the rail system.  In most parts of England, Wales and Scotland, this is a direct public investment in the rail system. But in central southern England, passengers are required to pay for the cost of the capital investment too.  SWT passengers paid 3.5p per mile more than the running and capital costs of their service.  Including network grant, Southern passengers received a tiny subsidy of under 1p per mile.  In contrast, passengers on Arriva Trains Wales rail services received subsidies of over 42p per mile.

The chart below shows the contrast between the subsidy paid by SWT and those received by selected other operators in £m:

The Budget and the Industrial Strategy: Why the Central South needs to get back on track

The Budget and the Industrial Strategy: Why the Central South needs to get back on track

November 22nd’s Budget has been criticised as being timid, and lacking in new ideas. However, it did at least have a few things to say about investment to support growth. From the National Productivity Investment Fund or Transforming Cities Fund through to plans for investment in housing and innovation, and proposals for regional ‘tech hubs’, it gave some indication of the Government’s future focus.

One familiar theme also re-emerged: supporting growth outside the capital. The Budget report states that “the Government will support the comparative advantages of regional economies…and continue to back devolution”.

For those wanting to rejuvenate their local economies there a very clear message in the Budget: if you work together and find solutions to local economic challenges, then you are central to the country’s economic future. And you will be supported: for example, half of the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund will be “allocated on a per capita basis to the 6 combined authorities with elected metro mayors”.

When you look at the detail of the Budget that focus becomes clearer still. There are specific promises to Combined Authorities across the UK: £337m investment in the Tyne and Wear Metro, or £243m from the Transforming Cities Fund to Greater Manchester, for example. There are commitments to the “seven areas across the UK already benefitting from directly elected Mayors”, together with funding for North of the Tyne “paving the way for the area to elect a Mayor in 2019”.

Whilst Combined Authorities and Mayors are front and centre, collaboration elsewhere is rewarded, for example the newly identified Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Corridor. They will receive £30m a year for five years to support ambitious targets for housing and economic growth. Even if Mayoral-led Combined Authorities may remain the Government’s ideal, they seem ready to invest where there is a robust and credible partnership which they can trust to deliver.

Five days after the Budget the Government published their Industrial Strategy White Paper. It’s worth reading it alongside the Budget. It repeats the twin themes of supporting growth and sharing prosperity across the country. And there is the same emphasis on collaboration to address the Government’s assertion that “too many of the UK’s cities outside the capital underperform” – whether through city deals, combined authorities, devolution deals or LEPs.

The Industrial Strategy has five ‘foundations’: ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and place. The last of these foundations – place – is important. The White Paper looks to support growth based on “the right economic geography” – not on political or administrative boundaries, but, and it bears repeating, on economic geography.

The Strategy puts LEPs at the heart of producing Local Industrial Strategies, and will drive local growth. Strong, coherent partnerships, and often Mayoral-led combined authorities, are a key element of this: the Budget report notes that “[devolution deals] have shifted power and funding to local areas to enable them to take strategic decisions about local priorities”.

Taken together the Budget and Industrial Strategy give a clear direction of travel. And they raise two questions: if the Government want to encourage co-operation and collaboration why have they not refreshed their seemingly moribund policy of devolution to actively encourage this, and why are some of our local authorities not actively building those partnerships and seeking a deal with Government?

Since the beginning of the year DCLG have had a number of bids for devolution deals sat on their desks, including several from the central South. Yet the bidders have heard nothing, and there has been no signal from the Department quite how they see the future of their devolution policy. If their colleagues at HMT and BEIS are putting collaboration and devolution at the heart of plans for our future prosperity, then it behoves DCLG’s Ministers to give a clear indication of the next steps in that journey.

Meanwhile the central South’s local councils, in partnership with their colleagues at LEPs and universities, should redouble their efforts to secure a devolution deal that works for them. It may no longer mean we need to explore yet again whether we can fashion a combined authority that suits all, and re-open those futile debates over boundaries and governance. But we do need to speak with one voice to articulate a coherent case for investment to promote growth.

The Government is clearly saying in both the Budget and Industrial Strategy that if a location has got its act together, if key players – councils, universities, LEPs – are working in partnership and they have a clear, distinctive vision for their economic future, then that may be the basis for a support, whether through a devolution deal or some other mechanism. Either way, it offers opportunities for investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation.

That’s exactly the message Jim O’Neill gave to the Southern Policy Centre’s “Devo South” Conference in May 2017: if you can all get behind a distinctive and inspiring vision for your area, then that will appeal to Ministers, and might just be the basis for Government to support local growth.

So if the central South wants to be part of the new future the Government have set out then we need to bring fresh impetus to shaping a shared vision, based on a credible economic geography and with a solid partnership which can deliver it.

What are we waiting for?

Devolution in the South: reboot needed

Simon Eden, SPC Associate, on how the South needs to re-imagine its approach to devolution:

Devolution across the UK has proceeded in fits and starts.  Some councils and their partners embraced the process early, and came out with devolution deals which delivered financial support, greater autonomy and, in some cases, new powers.  Others came late, and got stuck in a ‘traffic jam’ of bids which sat on Ministers’ desks.  The Brexit referendum, a change of Prime Minister and then the General Election in June 2017 brought everything pretty much to a halt.  The process has yet to restart in earnest.

Many potential partners who bid to become Combined Authorities are in limbo, not knowing whether ministers will look favourably on their ideas or not.  As Government says nothing, so alliances fall apart, with councils voting against working in a Combined Authority with near neighbours.  Legal challenges seem to have more impact on who works with whom than does economic geography.

Devolution in the central South of England has stalled.  Promising partnerships have collapsed.  Government has said nothing in response to the bids they received from once enthusiastic councils, LEPs and businesses.  No one is clear what will happen next, if anything.  In May of this year the Southern Policy Centre held a conference to explore why devolution for the central South has stalled, and how we could re-start that debate.

Our keynote speaker was Lord Jim O’Neill, former Treasury Minister who, along with former Chancellor George Osborne, was the architect of the Cameron Government’s approach to devolution.  Both O’Neill and Osborne had a very clear vision for devolution: their aim was to re-balance a national economy which they perceived to be dominated by London and the South East.  They wanted to stimulate local economies by devolving political power, decision-making and accountability to cities and city regions.

Successful devolution deals have been struck with some of our great northern cities, and with areas as far apart as Bristol and Peterborough.  But central southern England has missed out.  The businesses, universities and councils attending our conference shared a sense of frustration at the lack of a devolution deal or deals in our area.  A lack of progress meant our communities are not seeing the benefit of the extra investment in infrastructure, skills and housing such deals bring.

So what went wrong for the central South?  Lord O’Neill was very clear that the best bids he saw offered a distinctive, ‘stand-out’ proposal which built on unique local strengths and offered Ministers a clear economic payback.  The worst appeared to be no more than requests for additional money. Perhaps none of our proposals were exciting enough for ministers – or perhaps they failed to capture what’s unique about us?

We were told that only one of our bids, for the Solent area, got as far as being considered by ministers, and that it subsequently failed because of opposition from some local MPs.  Perhaps we also fell foul of ministers’ focus on conurbations, with no thought-out policy for the more typical mix of cities, towns and rural communities making up much of the UK.  But nor did we help ourselves, with discussions about devolution in the central South so readily becoming about ‘form’:  who sits on the Combined Authority, who chairs, who has what votes?  The political and administrative geography of our area is complex, and not everyone could agree on the make-up of proposed Combined Authorities.  Many saw an elected Mayor as a threat to local councils’ authority.

Councils are understandably wary about renewing that seemingly fruitless debate. But businesses, universities and others at the Southern Policy Centre’s conference recognised that the case for devolution remains strong.  By allowing decisions to be made and resources allocated at a local level we stand the best chance of addressing the problems faced by deprived communities, of targeting capital investment to where it will have the greatest impact, and of re-growing a strong economy by building on local strengths and opportunities.

But that case needs to be made once again, and this time, framed in a different way. While devolution is about a constitutional argument about where power should lie, there is also a far more pragmatic argument, making the case for devolution as a vehicle for solving local problems – from delivering improved housing supply to stimulating economic growth.  There is every indication that ministers see devolution in that pragmatic, functional way.  Maybe we need to re-cast the case we make to reflect this new mood.

So perhaps we should restart the devolution debate in the central South from a different place.  Maybe we should move away from politically-led debates about governance, voting rights and representation, and begin by looking at with how greater local control can deliver more jobs, better housing, and better life-chances for people.  For their part, ministers should articulate a more attractive ‘offer’ for those willing to overcome the institutional and political barriers to co-operation.

It’s sad to say, but it appears that Whitehall doesn’t trust local councils and local communities.  So we need to prove we can work together: councils with one another, with businesses, universities and many others.  There is nothing more powerful for Ministers than a demonstration that something works; it puts you on the front foot when it comes to making the case for seceding control.

If the old arguments have fallen on ministerial deaf ears, then perhaps this sort of ‘bottom up’ case for devolution will have more of an impact.  Businesses, universities and others working alongside local authorities as equals may be able to make a better, more persuasive case than we did in the past.


Open Data publishing workshop

What data publishing tools do you use?

A few months ago lots of people helped the Open Data Institute (ODI) crowdsource a Long List of Open Data Publishing Tools. Many of those tools now appear in the ODI’s Open Data Publishing Tools Audit.

On Wednesday 27th September ODI Hampshire is running a workshop on behalf of the ODI for people and organisations who publish data. The emphasis is on statistical data, but anyone who publishes data is welcome to attend, and there’s still time to register via Eventbrite.

Which tools?

We’ll be discussing which tools people use for different stages of the data publication process, and what they’re used for. As reference we’ll use the Tools Audit, as well as the themes within the Open Data Maturity Model, and the open data publishing principles that Leigh Dodds wrote about on the ONS Digital blog. We are also interested in any tools which aren’t already on the list.

Where does it hurt?

Then, we’ll talk about the gaps – or ‘pain points’ – in the process.

We are trying to find out what makes publishing data slower, more tedious, and/or more costly, so we’ll explore questions like:

  • Do we need better tools (e.g. for cleaning data), or simply better integration of the various steps of the publishing process?
  • Is there a particular stage of publishing data that you really hate, which is slow and clunky and could be speeded up, if only…?

Steps to (publishing) heaven

Lastly, we will identify some practical ways these issues can start to be addressed. We want to propose a concrete set of ‘next steps’ which can be shared across the entire ODI network.

Quick Draw

We will take comprehensive notes throughout the workshop, which we’ll share with you afterwards. We’ll also produce a summary report for the ODI so they can share it more widely, and Drawnalism ‘In the Moment’ will be on-hand, live-drawing your ideas .

Register for the workshop


Tainting a good idea

Combined authorities in the balance

It may be Budget day before we learn whether any part of central southern England will reach agreement with the government on a ‘devolution deal’.  But the chaotic process of recent months may have damaged the credibility of what is, at its heart, a very good idea.

In the past few weeks, the Hampshire and Isle of Combined Authority, widely regarded as the best developed and most widely supported devolution proposal, apparently stalled. Negotiations then opened between some (but not all) of the councils involved in the Partnership for Urban Southampton Hampshire (PUSH)  area. In recent days it seems the Hampshire proposals may have come back on the agenda, though it remains possible however that the south Hampshire deal will remain in play. The process has not been helped by the involvement of two government departments – the Treasury and Communities and Local Government – sometimes in separate conversations with different local authorities.

Southampton City Council leader Simon Letts told BBC South on Sunday that he expected a deal based on Solent councils to be announced in the budget. It appears, however, that this would exclude New Forest, Test Valley and Winchester Councils that are all currently part of the Parnership for Urban Southampton Hampshire, but would include all of East Hampshire including large areas that are currently outside the PUSH area.

Meanwhile in Oxfordshire, which seemed to be moving forward with its own devolution proposals, the row between the Prime Minister and the Conservative Leader of the County Council has spilled over into a radical proposal – backed by the County’s MPs – to break up the County into four unitary local councils.  In Dorset, where devolution proposals were published in September, the debate has also moved towards the abolition of the County Council and its replacement with two unitary councils. Devolution plans for Surrey and Sussex have stumbled on the failure to reach agreement with Brighton, and the rest of the region’s councils are sitting out the whole devolution debate until how it will work is made clearer.

Unlike the northern city regions, southern local authorities enjoyed little history of the close cooperative working and deep relationships that had taken decades to build in Manchester. It was always going to be difficult to build them in a few months, but it was made harder by the lack of any clear ground rules, and changes in central government policy.

Back in the summer, local authorities were drawn together by the prospect of retaining 100% of business rates and the need to reach cooperative agreements between authorities. By October, all local authorities were told they would keep their business rates whether or not they were in a devolution deal,. The rules were also changed so that new combinations and divisions of authorities could be proposed. These changes weakened the glue that was holding deals together and some began to fragment as they have in Hampshire/IoW, Oxfordshire and Dorset.

Further difficulties were caused by the Government’s insistence on the imposition of elected mayors. It seems the near collapse of the Hampshire deal was nothing to do with the quality of its economic development or public service proposals but the rejection by the majority of Hampshire council leaders of an elected mayors. It appears that one reason that the government has enterntained a southern combined authority is the willingness of those council leaders to accept a mayor. If the Hampshire deal is to go ahead it will require a change of heart on this issue.

At this point it looks like the government is willing to trade proper decision-making for the political face-saving of achieving an elected mayor. Yet, the impact of elected mayors can be overstated. Far from all powerful, the  new elected mayor of Great Manchester will be one person amongst a committee of 11 local authority leaders. Their own real powers stretch no further than Policing and Fire and Rescue. We already have Police and Crime Commissioners across the region and, in December, the Government floated plans to give all PCCs oversight or Fire and Rescue. In other words, we are close to getting someone with many mayoral powers whether or not there is a devolution deal. However, the one real advantage of having a fully-fledged elected mayor is the right to raise and keep additional business rates for economic development.

With so much uncertainty and upheaval it’s hard to be confident that we will see any quick boost to economic growth and/or the more efficient public services that are at the heart of the devolution idea. According to our research this is what the region needs, and it’s what business wants.

The vision, of powerful combined authorities cooperating together across the region looks a very long way away. The integration of health and services – perhaps the biggest single prize in terms of more effective and efficient public services – will be hard to deliver in the middle of local government reorganisation and many of the new authorities will be too small to integrate their services with health on their own. The poor alignment of economic development, political and health boundaries highlighted in our earlier report will remain or become worse.

And slowly but surely, for better for worse, the death of the English County Council takes a few steps forward. But that, like all the other issues in this article, has not been the subject of any public debate or consultation. Yet, as our work on the citizens assemblies showed, these are issues that the public and business can engage in and contribute to.

Professor John Denham

Chair, Southern Policy Centre

Year One at the Southern Policy Centre

Why a southern think tank?

We were launched in 2014 by Greg Clark and Lord Adonis to provide public policy focus for central southern England: the area from Dorset to West Sussex, and the Isle of Wight up to Oxfordshire.

The region faces challenges distinct from both London and other English regions. Our public spending per head is low, our landscape is very mixed and we have a fast ageing population.

Average incomes are above the national average but living costs are high. A fast growing population is the context for contentious issues like the need to develop more housing while maintaining sensitivity for the natural environment.

Economic development, though generally good, is uneven and constrained by shortages of skills, infrastructure and finance.


Our first major workstream is around devolution policy, working with groups like South East Strategic Leaders to shape a devolution deal that works for the south.

We brought Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, down to Winchester Business School for a series of talks. Here are five lessons we can learn from Devo-Manc.

Our key piece of work looked at the challenges and opportunities for the major devolution bids in southern England, and interviewed important employers in the region to get their thoughts. Read the report on Devo-South here.

For a different perspective see our work on Citizens’ Assembly South, a project with university partners, YouGov and the Electoral Reform Society to better understand the views of non-specialists.


We launched our Open Data initiative in March this year (see the launch video here), becoming an Open Data Institute Node in May. See our ODI Hampshire mini site.

Since then we’ve applied open data principles to studying adult social care in the south, with a BBC South commissioned report showing a collapse in the number of residents receiving the service but alongside a fairly stable level of investment.

We’re also working on a Higher Education Funding Council project to understand areas with lower than expected levels of participation in university in southern England, and to then develop a toolkit that can be applied across the country.

Our latest event brought together open data specialists with policy makers in Hampshire. We showed that a bigger focus on data has already been used to drive improved decision making in public policy, but there’s still a long way to go. See our Storify for a round up of resources and discussion points.


Our already mentioned Assembly South project showed that ordinary residents can make a contribution to the devolution debate, but what about even more specialised and arguably more thorny policy problems?

We’ve recently held an event for local residents to discuss housing policy and hear from expert speakers (report out soon, watch this space!), but before that we held deliberative polling seminars on commissioning budgets and migration politics.

Apart from that, we had the pleasure of running an Arnie Graf Tour across southern England. The tour covered local authorities, the third sector and universities, and ranged from Southampton to Oxford. The kick off event in Winchester with Isabel Hardman and Danny Kruger was about community organising; what is it and does the sort of thing that Jeremy Corbyn inspires count?


We’ve worked on events with private organisations like KnowNow Information, Open Data Aha! and PWC, and universities including Southampton, Bournemouth, Solent, Winchester and Oxford.

Our institutional partners include the Open Data Institute and a cross party Advisory Board of many talents.

Our research projects have been supported by regional organisations like BBC South and Business South, and national bodies like HEFCE.

Plus we work closely with organisations ranging from Hampshire Hub to the Electoral Reform Society.

Want to work with us? Get in touch.

Perspectives on Devo-South

1. The bids so far and mapping out our challenges

Our most recent research report for Business South looked at the challenges and opportunities in central southern England – incorporating some great maps from OS – and analysed the bids so far as well as the government’s own proposals. This assessment was compared to the views of key business leaders in the region who we interviewed about their priorities for devolution.

See more here.

2. The citizens’ voice

Over October and November we were involved in a Democracy Matters project, holding a citizens’ assembly in the Solent area of Hampshire. Local citizens and councillors deliberated on devolution options for Hampshire and Isle of Wight.

  • Citizens at this ground-breaking initiative strongly endorsed the idea that any new devolved body should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area (rather than the SE or Solent)
  • Health and social care integration should be the most important priority for the body, followed by public transport, business support and housing investment
  • Participants were evenly split on whether they support the devolution proposal currently being negotiated with government
  • Citizens want far greater public involvement in Hampshire devolution deal being proposed, and pledge to stay involved in the process, in bid to ‘democratise devolution

See here for an overview.

3. Lessons from Manchester

We were privileged to host Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, at an event supported by PwC in Winchester. Sir Richard led a discussion on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority deal, and how they got there.

We’ve outlined five key lessons from the Devo-Manc experience here.

Southern Powerhouse: lessons to learn from Manchester

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, joined the Southern Policy Centre and the Winchester Business School to discuss Manchester’s experience of devolution so far (‘Devo-Manc’).

The day was kindly supported by PwC.

Here are five important lessons that those building devolution deals in southern England can take from the Greater Manchester experience so far:

1. It takes time

Devolution is a process built on talking and planning between equal partners. It requires a unified political voice asking for powers based on a credible prospectus, which in turn requires Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent leaders to have strong relationships between each other.

The situation in southern England is accelerated. That ground work hasn’t been done in the same way as Manchester where they’ve been working on the process for many years. So leaders will be thinking about what work they need to do after the initial deal with government is struck, and how trusting relationships can be maintained across their region.

2. Connecting economic and social policy is key

No major policy challenges fit neatly into one policy box. Sir Richard focused on the issue of worklessness, which is one of the key factors behind the productivity gap between Manchester and other parts of England.

Much of it is caused by health problems, and devolution will actually enable that challenge to be dealt with across sectors. Not just by the NHS, not just by a local council, not just by the DWP. You can use strategic leadership, drawing on the knowledge of professionals and politicians in all these organisations, and you can pool funding/resources to tackle problems at root.

3. Devolution works best bottom up

The Manchester experience has been ‘bottom up’ in two key ways. Business voices have called, loud and clear, for devolution around skills policy. Amplifying these voices has been integral to Manchester’s case. And the whole of the Devo-Manc deal was drafted collaboratively between elected leaders. The Treasury didn’t impose the Northern Powerhouse, it was designed by Manchester’s architects.

But it hasn’t been perfect. One regret from Manchester was that they haven’t involved ordinary citizens enough in the design. The most effective devolution bids will carry forward the priorities and aspirations of whole communities.

4. It’s cross-party or no party

This has applied both locally and nationally in Manchester. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority includes Conservative-led Trafford and Liberal Democrat-led Stockport.

But the story that isn’t often told is how important continuity between the Labour and then the Coalition government was in 2010. The last couple of years of the Labour government in particular showed real progress in creating a Manchester ‘City Region’, and the coalition’s choice – made, apparently, on the lobbying of the Conservative and Lib Dem leaders in Manchester – to carry that work forward rather than scrap it and build their own scheme stopped devolution progress from being set back by years.

Devolution bids in the south – from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to the Three Counties prospectus between Surrey, East Sussex, and West Sussex – are all built on cross-party coalitions, but that has to hold up in sustained negotiations and partnership working throughout times of electoral change.

5. Equality has to be protected

So much of this is built on trust between local partners. Protections for political minorities as well as unequal areas (ie district councils compared to unitary authorities) have to be built in from the start, so that the political leadership in these areas don’t feel like they’re being set up to be taken over by their bigger partners.

Further notes from Manchester:

  1. Business rates: a great opportunity, especially for southern authorities, but inequalities exist and councils will need to lobby the government to devolve business rates at a combined authority (rather than council) level so that a local system of redistribution is an option.
  2. Health: health organisations in Manchester and beyond fear being taken over, an anxiety that can destabilise the whole process if efforts aren’t made from the start to build in joint working and decision making.
  3. Education: Greater Manchester has only made tiny progress on education, this is an area where government policy doesn’t align with local authorities who want more oversight of schools.
  4. Confidence: local government is the most confident it has been for a long time. They won’t just be turned away at the door anymore, and the devolution genie won’t be allowed to go back into the bottle.


Supported by PwC.