Why devolution has failed to capture the public’s attention
A state of the nation report on devolution in England, published today by GK Strategy and onefourzero, has found that whilst the agenda continues to be a political priority for the Government, the public are disengaged and unenthused by the prospect of further powers and accountability being shifted to a local level.
The report argues that devolution has so far failed to win over the hearts and mind of people because of a consistent reluctance by Whitehall to relinquish control over public spending. The Government has sought to award greater powers over commissioning public services and infrastructure to local bodies, but done so whilst tightening the purse strings of local authorities. The main factor, the report suggests, is that people see devolution as a way to merely pass the buck of public spending cuts rather than empowering the regions.
In pulling together the report, GK undertook primary research using its sister company onefourzero, who use a suite of advanced social and online listening technologies to understand public opinion. A number of key findings were made:
• Our research shows that there has been a 37% decrease in online conversations regarding devolution in the UK from November 2014, when the first City deal was announced to present.
• Peaks in conversation in 2015 are most likely to be due to the announcements of devolution deals in Liverpool (November, 2015) and Birmingham (West Midlands Combined Authority agreement, November 2015.)
• What is remarkable is that despite the impending mayoral elections this May, conversations have steadily decreased year on year indicating a disengaged public.
GK argue that there are two likely reasons for the level of disengagement with the concept of devolution, both of which are closely associated with the specific roles of elected mayors. The first is that the two largest cities outside of London – Manchester and Birmingham – both voted against having an elected mayor less than five years ago in a referendum in each city. The second is that the public lacks a clear understanding over the role of the mayor in relation to the devolution process and the elected councils in the local authorities in question.
The report also features sector analysis from GK Associate and former Government Minister, Phil Hope, looking at the impact of devolution on health and social care and from former Southwark Council Leader, Stephanie Elsy, looking at how businesses will be able to work with the new devolved administrations. Other areas covered included education and skills and infrastructure and transport.
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Commenting, Chief Executive of GK Strategy, Emily Wallace said:
“There has been seismic political change in the UK, not least our vote to leave the European Union last June. Devolution in England however, something broadly agreed with by all major parties and an ongoing project of successive UK Governments, has failed to capture people’s interest in the way other issues have.
“A number of factors lie behind this, but a common view is that devolution in England has been delegation of blame at a time of public spending consolidation, rather than delegation of power and responsibility.”
Commenting on devolved health and social care spending, GK Associate and former Government Minister, Phil Hope said:
“There is no real pattern to the Government’s approach to devolving budgets and responsibility for health and social care across the country. Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, London, Cornwall and the North East Region are the most advanced in terms of decision-making powers.
“These local areas are taking a risk in the hope that the advantages of increased budgetary control, strong local relationships and a shared commitment to outcome-driven reform outweigh the political and service risks of coping with massive reductions in funding at a time of rapidly growing demand and nationally imposed costs.
“Devolution is one ingredient in the recipe for dealing with a drastically underfunded and poorly structured health and social care system. But unless the devolution deal is fair, manageable and affordable, the risks to local decision-makers and their communities may outweigh the benefits.”
Notes to the editors:
2. You can read the full report here.
3. GK Strategy is a public affairs agency based in the heart of Westminster. Founded in 2009 by Co-Chairman Robin Grainger and Luke Kennedy, and run by CEO Emily Wallace, the agency offers a full range of public affairs and corporate communications services. GK Investor Services is the agency’s political research arm, while onefourzero is its sister agency.
4. For more information about GK Strategy, go to gkstrategy.com. For more information about onefourzero, go to www.onefourzerogroup.com