The IPPR Commission on Economic Justice is investigating how greater power over economic policy could be devolved to the nations of the UK and the regions of England. The UK has the most geographically unbalanced economy in Europe, with London and the Southeast too dominant, and significant assets outside of London not fully utilised. How can the devolution of economic powers and resources tackle this problem? This is one of a series of inter-related projects which will contribute to the Commission’s final report.
The project will focus on developing solutions rather than further description of the problem. Drawing together the large body of research IPPR has already produced analysing the UK’s uneven economic geography, the project will seek to develop a long-term devolution settlement which, by 2030, shifts significant economic power to the nations of the UK and regions of England. The aim is to realise the economic potential of the whole country, delivering inclusive and sustainable growth for all.
Each nation and region is clearly very different and will be treated separately. The project will be organised in two halves: one setting out a programme of potential further devolution to the UK nations; the other tackling the question of the English regions. This will then be tied together into a single coherent plan for the whole of the UK.
We accept that the 2030 settlement will likely be somewhat asymmetrical, and we don’t consider that to be a problem in itself. But we do believe greater coherence in relation to devolution within the UK can be achieved.
Equally, we accept that there are live constitutional questions within the UK, not least the independence debate in Scotland, and the Brexit effect in Northern Ireland. Our work to consider devolution of economic power within the UK does not preclude any future outcomes from these constitutional debates, and indeed our findings may be relevant to them.
Questions to which we are keen to receive responses include, but are not limited to:
- What has been the role of central government policy and the UK’s past and current governance arrangements in creating the unevenness in the UK’s economic geography?
a. How closely are governance arrangements related to geographic concentrations of economic activity? What is the evidence on this both in the UK and in other countries?\
b. To what extent have apparently centralised economic policy and passive industrial strategy contributed to the dominance of London in the UK’s economic geography?
c. How have other countries approached this differently and with what results?
- Which powers are needed by nations, regions and sub-regions in order to drive inclusive and sustainable growth which utilises all of the UK’s assets?
a. Which economic policy powers, or ‘drivers of growth’, are best exercised by nations, regions and sub-regions? Which economic powers should go to which level of government?
b. Which other areas of public policy should be considered for devolution, where they are not already devolved, for the purpose of achieving inclusive and sustainable growth?
c. Which (additional) fiscal powers should be devolved, to which levels, and how can this be achieved given geographical differences in economic performance?
d. Which powers to intervene in the labour market should be considered as appropriate for devolution?
e. How should industrial strategy be organised on a geographic basis?
f. How should the departments of the UK government, especially the Treasury, be governed and reformed in order to align the interests of central government with those of the UK’s constituent nations and regions?
- How can devolution be achieved in practice?
a. By 2030, what should be the settlement – which powers should be at which tier of governance? How can we bring coherence, while also allowing for asymmetry, within the devolved settlement in the UK?
b. How should this be sequenced, and how should the pace and process of devolution account for differing levels of capacity and democratic legitimacy needed to take on powers in different parts of the UK?
c. What can be learned from the experience of other countries which have pursued devolution (Canada, Japan and France for example)?
d. What long-term framework and principles should political parties across the UK set out to guide this process through to completion?
e. How should any new structures relate to existing ones, and how should policy-makers decide where to draw regional and sub-regional boundaries?
f. What safeguards should be put in place?
g. What should be the next steps for each nation and region of the UK?
This project is separate from, but closely related to, our ongoing work on industrial strategy, automation, migration and skills. We will be aligning the findings of these papers in the final report of the Commission on Economic Justice.
We welcome submissions focusing on individual questions and issues as well as those addressing the field as a whole. We would be glad to receive work which has already been published or otherwise already written but which we may not have seen. We are also very happy to receive papers pre-publication and will of course treat these however the authors wish.
We particularly welcome submissions specific to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, together with specific England regions. This project is being led by IPPR North and IPPR Scotland, who will be working hard to ensure the project is inclusive of all parts of the UK. Please let us know if you are interested in our programme of engagement.