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Devolution revolution - is central government ready?

25 April 2016

One of the key themes explored in Browne Jacobson’s report ‘Our changing state: the realities of austerity and devolution’ is the preparedness of central government for the significant changes already happening in the delivery of public sector functions in England and Wales.

We explore the extent of 'buy in' from central government, what plans have been made for things going wrong, lack of clarity around where responsibility lies as between local and central government, and the nature of the relationship between central and local government.

We make a number of recommendations for steps which central government needs to take to ensure it has the right people on board to deliver the strategy. Our thoughts chime with those of the National Audit Office who have just published a report on the English devolution deals. They say that notwithstanding increases in capacity in both the Cities and Local Growth Unit and at Treasury, there is concern that Government does not have the capacity to deal with the number of deals coming forwards either in terms of negotiation or delivery. The NAO also rightly identify the mixed economy which is likely to result from the current programme.

In our view, this mixed economy may well have a significant impact on central government teams who will need to combine their traditional delivery and oversight role, with an unfamiliar commissioning role. Whether in fact such a ‘two tier’ system will be able to actually function is a serious question. We recognise that senior people in Government are currently driving the devolution revolution, but have concerns that when their focus shifts, and it inevitably will, that operational staff within Government will be left struggling to cope with a vastly altered landscape and insufficient skills and experience to cope with the new normal.

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