By international standards, political control in England is highly centralised. Governments of different types have attempted to create new forms of sub-national democracy and to decentralise power for the past two decades.

At the Institute for Government we are interested not only in decentralisation - the transfer of power from higher to lower levels of aggregation - but also how the effectiveness and accountability of sub-national tiers of government can be improved. This programme explores:

  • the ways in which political power, control and accountability can be redistributed and enhanced

  • the impact of local governance arrangements on government effectiveness

  • the routes to more effective relationships between central government and its sub-national counterparts, and to more effective collaborations at local levels.

Directly elected mayors

The Coalition government focused its early decentralisation efforts on introducing new candidate-centered institutions, including directly-elected mayors and police and crime commissioners. We carried out our research into directly-elected mayors in 2012 to prepare for referendums on mayors in ten cities across England.

Achieving decentralisation in England

Recent governments of both left and right have attempted to decentralise power in the UK. But while huge changes have occurred – particularly in Scotland, Wales and London - progress in the rest of England has been limited, although this is changing as the Government concludes 'devo deals' with various English regions.

In our 2014 report Achieving Political Decentralisation we set out lessons from thirty years of attempting to devolve political power in the UK and identify ten obstacles that any reform programme needs to overcome to be successful.

Devolution deals

We are currently examining the devolution deals process, looking at what devolution deals will mean for the skills system in England and are building on this to develop a broader devolution framework that can be applied to other policy areas. We hope this will help central government and local areas to realise the opportunities that devolution brings, whilst mitigating some of the risks.

Our new report examines how to make effective devolution deals.

Dr Jo Casebourne was a Commissioner for the Political Studies Association’s Research Commission to examine the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities. The report – Examining the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities – was published in March 2016, and offers some reflections on the decision making process around devolution deals to date. It draws on the shared learning and experiences of key actors involved to identify elements that have worked well and also potential areas for improvement. The report argues that the devolution agenda offers a real opportunity to empower local areas, boost economic growth and improve public services and makes recommendations for how central government should develop and improve plans for devolution in the future. The commission was chaired by Dr Sarah Ayres, University of Bristol. Find out more about the report. 

Find out more

If you’re interested in hearing more, or getting involved with our work, please get in touch:

Dr Jo Casebourne (Programme Director):

Joe Randall (Researcher):