Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) should be appointed as the government’s ‘deal making agent’ to speed up devolution, a new report has argued today.
The report, by manufacturers’ organisation EEF, argues that lengthy negotiations with local government to develop bespoke devolution deals has led to a ‘this long-winded and cumbersome approach’.
Instead it calls on the Government to publish a clear devolution deal framework to enable devolution deals to be rolled out across every area of England.
Chris Richards, EEF head of business environment policy said: ‘Devolution deals are a good framework and the Government should double down and finish the job in getting deals rolled out to all areas.
‘They can achieve this by publishing what is on offer for local areas rather than continuing the game of negotiation hide and seek. Given local government in England is significantly fragmented they should also put LEPs in charge as the trusted local agent to get devolution deals over the line in areas that don’t yet have them.’
The County Council Network (CCN) welcomed the calls for devolution deals outside of city areas.
Cllr Martin Hill, CCN Devolution Spokesman and leader of Lincolnshire County Council, said: ‘Counties contain the bulk of the country’s manufacturing industry, and there is a real argument that bespoke county devolution deals could ensure that these areas are not left behind their urban counterparts and become masters of their own economic destiny.
He added: ‘CCN believes county authorities are best placed to act as strategic authorities to lead devolution deals and take on devolved powers, offering the size necessary to do business with government mixed with local expertise, working in strong partnership with LEPs and other local bodies.’
Jack Airey, head of research at Localis said the 'tortuously slow pace' of devolution was a barrier to growth.
'There is now little reason and less capacity or attention in Whitehall for agreeing bespoke devolution deals as the terms of Brexit are negotiated,' he said. 'So it makes sense to shift to this threshold approach across strategic authority areas – whether Local Enterprise Partnership or combined authority area footprints - otherwise devolution risks stalling over the course of the current Parliament.'