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.

Devolution deals

We have been 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. Our January 2016 report examined how to make devolution deals effective

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 from the University of Bristol. Find out more about the report. 

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 – until recently, progress in the rest of England has been limited. However this is changing, as the Government has concluded 'devo deals' with various English regions and there are Mayoral elections planned for 2017 in some UK cities and city regions. Our 2014 report, Achieving Political Decentralisation, set out lessons from thirty years of attempting to devolve political power in the UK and identified ten obstacles that any successful reform programme needs to overcome.

The IfG is now involved in the British Academy’s Governing England programme, which seeks to address a number of issues around the government and governance of England. As part of this project we are participating in a series of regional workshops on English devolution and are producing short papers containing the highlights of each of these. The first paper in the series looks at devolution in NE England.

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, Senior Researcher: