‘Brexit means regions need new model of devolution’

20 Sep 17

Brexit means a new model of devolution is needed because different areas of the UK have varying capacities to cope with leaving the EU, a CIPFA North East event has heard.

The regions’ capacity to deal with Brexit could be made more difficult as decision making is centered around Whitehall, Anna Round, senior research fellow on the North East from the IPPR think-tank, told the event in Newcastle yesterday.

“I think the capacity for regions to shape their future outside the EU is immensely important,” she said, at the event hosted by CIPFA and the Brexit Advisory Commission.

“There is a challenge there about how devolution will progress, how it is distributed meaningfully between Whitehall and regions. 

"I think the current model of devolution is not going to do that, that needs to change.”

Round noted recent studies showed the “extraordinary” levels of economic disparity in the UK between London and the rest of the country. This was the most profound imbalance of this kind in the EU, she said.

She stated this was historically made worse by the “huge political imbalance in a hugely centralised country”.

The research fellow suggested looking again at the scale of the areas covered by devolution deals and moving to a more federalised system.

She suggested the devolution areas should be larger to give them more ‘clout’.

Round spoke on the day it was revealed two councils – Barnsley and Doncaster councils have pulled out of a South Yorkshire devolution deal because they said it was too small to be effective.

The leaders of the councils argued a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal would be better. A Communities and Local Government spokesperson said the department would not consider this.  

David Bell, from the University of Stirling, speaking at the Newcastle event yesterday agreed with Round's assessment of the regional disparity in the UK.

Although, he believed a federal structure was possible he said that the wider geographical areas in England did not currently have a common sense of identity, such as states in the US.

“It isn't clear how to you from here [current system] to there [federal system],” he said.

Anthony Zito, professor of European policy for Newcastle University, also shared the view that the UK capacity of the regions to cope with Brexit needed to be each taken into account to make a success of leaving the EU.

Zito said he was not sure how the national and local governments in the UK would cope with the profound change that would result from Brexit.

This was because of the loss of benefits EU membership provided, he believed. “The UK's ability to protect its environment, to enhance its trade, all those things which the European Union, I would argue, helped [provide].”

Zito asked how the UK will replace, for example, the skills and knowledge currently brought into the country through freedom of movement.

He also said “Brexit is taking knowledge and people with expertise away from other pressing problems” facing the wider public sector.

CIPFA and the Brexit Advisory Commission hosted the breakfast session to explore the risks and opportunities of Brexit for public services in the North East.

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