FINAL REPORT of the Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme
Devolution in England
Devolution in Northern Ireland
Devolution in Scotland
Devolution in Wales
Devolution and Intergovernmental Relations
Devolution and Public Policy
Devolution and Economy
• The introduction of devolution has clearly been popular and has done much to restore legitimacy to government in Scotland. Though unpersuaded about the impact the Parliament has had in practice, citizens appear to want further devolution, even further tax-raising powers.
• But a distinctively Scottish policy agenda is at best only slowly emerging, with much of the policy innovation so far reflecting the conditions set by the Liberal Democrats for cooperation in the coalition with Labour which has been in place since 1999.
• Devolution has rapidly won approval levels significantly higher than the wafer thin yes-majority in the 1997 referendum. There is support for further-reaching devolution which has been acted on in the recommendations of the Richard Commission in 2004 and in the Goverment of Wales Bill in 2005, though the timescale for change is an extended one.
• Wales has a more vibrant rhetoric of policy distinctiveness than Scotland, in part belying its weaker powers, and focused on the demarcation of a 'traditional Labour' policy agenda in Wales on the public services from 'new' Labour policies at Westminster.
• The English are content with continued, centralised government from Westminster and were nowhere persuaded of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott's plans for regional government - exceping the GLA in London where a similar model of regional government is now well-established.
• In the absence of a prospect of devolution to elected regional bodies the government has continued to decentralise administrative functions to appointed bodies in the regions. The growth of 'administrative governance' has brought with it as yet unresolved problems of accountability, duplication and inefficiency.
• There is a significant basis of support for devolution among citizens in both Protestant and Catholic communities – including Sinn Fein and DUP voters – though political elites in Northern Ireland have shown little inclination as yet to respond to that support and make devolution work.
• Instead they remain bound to ‘either-or’ constitutional choices (either part of the UK, or unification with the Republic of Ireland) which the institutions crafted in the 1998 Belfast Agreement have incentivised rather than moderated.
Public Attitudes and National Identity
- Attachments across the UK to an overarching British identity have declined, but most of the decline derives from generational changes that set in long before devolution. Only in England has Britishness declined significantly since devolution, as devolution elsewhere has sharpened English identity. There is some evidence to suggest that shared values form a supplementary UK-wide bond alongside British identity.
- Weakening Britishness has little impact on constitutional preferences around the UK. Asymmetrical devolution appears generally to match public preferences, with the English supporting devolution in Scotland and Wales as much as the Scots and Welsh do.
Devolution and Public Policy
- Perhaps unexpectedly the main force for policy variation since devolution has been the UK government in its policies of choice in public services in England, which in many cases Scotland and Wales have not followed.
- There has been significant policy innovation by the devolved administrations, and there is considerable scope for a further widening of policy divergence from English standards; there are limited mechanisms for assessing Scottish and Welsh (and English) policies against UK-wide priorities or for encouraging policy learning between jurisdictions.
Devolution and Inter-governmental Coordination
- The devolution reforms have caused a remarkable low number of disputes between devolved and UK administrations. The main reasons for this are temporary, and will change: Labour’s role as the leading partner in government in Westminster, Scotland and Wales; and a general growth in public expenditures which have limited distributional conflicts.
- There is good reason to ensure that mechanisms are in place to channel and coordinate divergent UK and devolved priorities for less benign future environments; if they are to be in place there will need to be a change in mentality which recognises that disputes, and transparency about them, are a necessary and proper part of a devolved system of government.
Devolution: Economy and Finance
- There is little evidence to suggest that an ‘economic dividend’ should be expected from devolution, or has yet appeared. There is much to suggest that devolution – even administrative devolution in England – will lead to a widening of regional economic disparities, and that there is only a limited capacity on the part of UK government to intervene to secure UK wide economic balance.
- Devolved financial arrangements – in shorthand the Barnett formula – have been a useful tool for ensuring territorial finance has not yet been a source of dispute between UK and devolved governments, yet these arrangements do not address the considerations of territorial need and fiscal accountability likely to be desirable in the longer term.