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NAO gives view on the government’s progress on devolution

27 April 2016

The momentum of the devolution revolution seems to have slowed. Local authorities have been left hanging on, tantalisingly close to a deal, while some decided to join other combined authorities instead. Even the recently announced deals now look questionable as councils push back on the Chancellor’s proposals.

The CLG Committee report, ‘Devolution: the next five years and beyond’, was clear – the Government needed to be more transparent, give more commitment on fiscal devolution and pay more attention to accountability. Now the NAO has stepped in, highlighting concerns about “significant accountability implications”. In its report ‘English devolution deals’, it points out the uncertainties in geographically complex deals as well as the need to measure the impact and value for money of devolution deals.

Importantly, the NAO recognises that using devolution to improve local services and stimulate economic growth is based on untested assumptions, stating “the arrangements are experimental and unlikely to work as intended in all areas and for all functions and services devolved”. It is therefore essential that the Government takes on-board the NAO and CLG Committee recommendations if devolution is to succeed.

The NAO findings reflect issues we address in our report ‘Our changing state: the realities of austerity and devolution’. We believe there is an opportunity for local authorities to make devolution work for them by engaging with the public, collaborating with partners that can and want to work together and by doing the detailed long-term planning that is perhaps not being done by central government.

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