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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Borderland West: Assessing the implications of a stronger Wales for the west of England

This report sets out to examine the potential impact of devolution for cities such as Bristol and regions such as the west of England – both the challenges and opportunities that flow from further Welsh devolution, but also from future devolution within England itself.

The Scottish independence referendum, and its fallout, has reawakened the debate about the constitutional settlement for the whole of the UK. This has deeply important implications for the other devolved nations of Wales and Northern Ireland, but also for England itself. Much neglected in this debate is the likely impact of a further strengthening of Welsh devolution on the English 'borderland'. The Welsh–English border is far more porous and economically connected than the Scottish–English border, particularly in the area bridging Cardiff, Bristol and their respective city-regions.

The focus of this report is narrowly on the implications of devolved fiscal policy, and in particular, tax policy. Its broad finding is that tax competition from Wales will affect the west of England only to a limited extent. More generally, the drivers of prosperity in the west of England are unlikely to be substantially affected by the tax-related factors that are likely to be devolved to Wales.

Instead, the issues which the west of England principally faces relate to two sets of wider challenges: those coming from the continuing and growing economic dominance of London and its wider area, and those coming from the continuing development of devolution in the UK. The tools by which Bristol and the west of England are able to determine their own economic future remain highly constrained, despite the city-region's comparatively healthy recent economic performance. The arrangements being put in place for England's other core cities, along with the failure of Bristol and the west of England to agree on a coherent joint vision for growth, represent a more pressing competitive challenge to the region.