William Eichler 26 September 2017

Combined authorities need ‘meaningful’ fiscal devolution, progress report says

Whitehall should reopen the conversation about ‘meaningful’ fiscal devolution in order to help places attract sustainable investment, says report on the progress of combined authorities.

The study, published today by business and financial advisers Grant Thornton and the law firm Bond Dickinson, is billed as the first benchmarking report on the performance of mayoral and non-mayoral combined authorities (CAs).

While it is still ‘early days’ in the lives of CAs, the report - which provides detailed analysis of the progress of each newly formed authority - noted ‘early signs are emerging of their potential to innovate and drive success.’

The call to further the devolution agenda, particularly the fiscal dimension, was placed highest on the list of recommendations for supporting the development of combined authorities.

The study’s authors urged the Government to discuss the devolution of more financial powers again ‘as it offers real hope to people and businesses buying into their places and making sustainable local investments.’

They also stressed the importance of devolution more generally, saying it would help ‘localities to put in place strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth’.

The report, entitled Combined Authorities: signs of success, looks at the legal, funding and governance frameworks of each of the nine combined authorities, which together govern over 16 million people.

It uses Grant Thornton's Vibrant Economy Index which, the authors argued, goes beyond simply analysing the performance of places by looking at financial returns; it also takes into account the wellbeing of society and the ability of residents to thrive.

Drawing on their findings about how the current authorities are operating, the report’s authors insisted CAs reduce the ‘institutional blurring’ between themselves and historic local government structures. This, they said, would help the legitimacy of CAs.

They also warned CAs would ‘stand and fall’ on their ability to add value through targeted investment and joined up policy making, and called for regular benchmarking and reporting in order to progress devolution.

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