Devolution ‘must not hinder service reform’

The government’s devolution plans must consider how to support service reform as well as economic growth, the Institute for Government has cautioned.

In a new report on joining up public services, the think tank argues that the act of devolving power will not in itself improve service delivery, and calls for careful consideration of where power is being placed.

“In some cases, aggregating at a local level can result in freedoms being taken from local authorities and given to larger geographies, which can hinder their ability to join up around local, citizen needs,” the report notes.

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“The current devolution agenda focuses on economic growth, which has led to an emphasis on combined authorities and city regions rather than local authorities,” it continues, adding that “it is essential to think strategically about whether certain geographies may help or hinder” joining up services and “how this might inform the distribution of powers and functions across the system”.

The report also suggests that devolution must be supported by other structural and cultural reforms to achieve meaningful change in public services.

These include agreeing clear goals to help service providers prioritise resources effectively; using commissioning to encourage local services to work together ; and physically bringing organisations together to overcome cultural and data-sharing challenges.

Jo Casebourne, IfG project director and co-author, said: “The chancellor’s ‘devolution revolution’ will give more power to local government, but our research shows it will not be a panacea. That’s not to say devolution is the wrong policy, but that it requires new ways of working at all levels of government – local, central and front-line.”

Colin Marrs

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