Everything you need to know about devolution in England.
What is devolution?
In England, devolution is the transfer of powers and funding from national to local government. It is important because it ensures that decisions are made closer to the local people, communities and businesses they affect.
The result will be more effective, better targeted public services, greater growth and stronger partnerships between public, private and community leaders in local areas.
Without devolution, decisions will continue to be made in Westminster, removed from communities that they affect.
- Why does devolution matter and how does it affect me?
We believe it is important because it ensures that decisions are made closer to the local people, communities and businesses they affect. Devolution will provide greater freedoms and flexibilities at a local level, meaning councils can work more effectively to improve public services for their area.
The result will be more effective, better targeted public services, greater growth and stronger partnerships between public, private and community leaders in local areas
- How has the process of devolution in England worked to date?
In November 2014, the Government announced the first devolution deal with Greater Manchester, followed by a deal with Cornwall in July 2015. At this point, the Government also invited proposals from local areas as part of the 2015 Spending Review. It asked them to submit their proposals by early September 2015. The Government received 34 bids from local areas.
Of these, 12 were brought forward initially for negotiation and 11 areas signed devolution deals. At the time, many of the unsuccessful areas felt they lacked a clear response from Government as to why their proposals were not taken forward. There was also concern that the criteria for success was not transparent enough or focused too heavily on the need for a directly elected mayor.
In February 2022, the Government published the Levelling Up White Paper. This set out a new devolution framework, extending devolution beyond metropolitan areas for the first time. The framework sets out a flexible, three level approach to devolution recognising that a one-size fits all model would not be suitable, with different powers and functions for each devolution level.
The three levels set out in the devolution framework are: Level 3 – a single institution or County Council with a directly elected mayor (DEM), across a functional economic area (FEA) or whole county area; Level 2 – A single institution or County Council without a DEM, across a FEA or whole county area; and Level 1 – Local authorities working together across a FEA or whole county area e.g. through a joint committee.
The Levelling Up White Paper also named ten areas which would be invited to start formal negotiations. Cornwall; Derbyshire and Derby; Devon, Plymouth and Torbay; Durham; Hull and East Yorkshire; Leicestershire; Norfolk; Nottinghamshire and Nottingham; and Suffolk were invited to agree new County Deals. York and North Yorkshire were invited to agree a mayoral combined authority (MCA) and the North East were invited to negotiate and agree an expanded MCA deal.
In June 2022, the Government published the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This expanded on the devolution framework set out in the white paper and enables the creation of County Combined Authorities through new devolution deals.
- How have devolution deals benefitted local people and communities
Examples of devolution successes include:
- The establishment of the first Mayoral Development Corporation outside of London in the Tees Valley, with a vision for the site to create 20,000 jobs and add £1 billion per year into the local economy over 25 years.
- Significant benefits from devolution in Cornwall, with over 11,000 businesses accessing business support programmes and the launch of an investment fund to fill a market gap that local businesses have identified.
- Opening up affordable travel to those who need it: Liverpool City Region has established the MTicket which allows unlimited day travel across Merseyside for young people aged five to 18. The combined authority also funds half-priced bus travel for apprentices aged 19 to 24. The ‘Our Pass’ scheme launched by Greater Manchester Combined Authority in September 2019 provides 16 to 18-year-olds in Greater Manchester with free bus travel. West Yorkshire has used its transport powers to cap travel costs for under-19s through the Fare Deal for Young People initiative and to develop plans for flexible ticketing in response to changing commuter patterns due to the pandemic.
- The scale of the West Midlands combined authority has enabled it to establish new partnerships, including on skills between employers, colleges, universities and other providers. Additional expertise, capacity and resilience has been created for the region’s councils and there have been a range of collaborative and cross-boundary projects, such as the Violence Reduction Unit, Town Centres Programme, and Tackling Health Inequalities programme.
- The West Yorkshire combined authority has used £13.5 million of funding secured through the devolution deal to help over 10,000 people in the region who have been made redundant or are at risk of redundancy due to the impact of Covid-19 to obtain new skills and access training or find work, over the next two years. The combined authority’s control of the region’s adult education budget enables it to deliver a tailored skills programme to address local needs and identify future demand, including the new Local Digital Skills Partnership.
- The recently published Greater Manchester Population Health Plan update which shows significant health benefits for local residents following the devolution of health and social care. This includes a substantial increase in school readiness and a smoking prevalence rate falling twice as fast as the national average.
- Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority have worked with partners and key stakeholders to launch a new employment-focused university. This university is due to open in Peterborough with 2,000 students in 2022 and the ambition of having 12,500 by 2030.
- What powers and responsibilities do areas with devolution deals have?
Areas that were successful in putting together devolution deals went through a process whereby their initial proposals were tested with relevant government departments. Over time this resulted in a significant degree of standardisation across each of the devolution deal areas. In practice, some of the powers outlined below are exercised by the Mayor and some by the combined authority. You can find out more about this in the LGA’s Devolution Deal to Delivery guide which looked at the experiences of combined authorities to date with a particular focus on understanding the lessons from developing a devolution deal to delivering it for councils in places which do not currently have a combined authority.
The agreed deals had a common focus on driving local economic growth, providing for the decentralisation of powers over skills and transport policy, the creation of a ‘single pot’ to support local investment and the ability to raise additional revenue through financial instruments such as a Mayoral precept.
More recently, mayoral combined authorities have also led on the development of Local Industrial Strategies, (whereas in areas without directly elected mayors these have been led by Local Enterprise Partnerships.
You can find out more about the powers and funding that have been devolved to individual areas through our Devolution Register. The LGA has also published research assessing how freely combined authorities are able to raise and spend funding. This report found that many combined authority financial freedoms are working well, but that further progress towards greater local financial freedom remains limited, and in a few respects has arguably regressed. This lack of progress is the result of a variety of factors – sometimes local, sometimes national.
- What will the future of devolution look like?
There are currently 10 combined authorities, nine of which have a mayor. The Levelling Up White Paper invited ten areas to come forward and negotiate devolution deals. Of these, York and North Yorkshire have agreed a Mayoral Combined Authority deal, and the East Midlands have agreed a Combined County Authority Deal. The White Paper also set out proposals for devolution to be deepened through opening negotiations for trailblazer deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester Combined Authorities, giving these areas the opportunity to bid for further powers.
The Levelling Up White Paper makes a commitment that “every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution” by 2030, opening up the possibility of devolution for the first time to all areas of England.
- What is a combined authority?
Combined authorities are corporate bodies formed of two or more council areas, established with or without an elected mayor. They enable groups of two or more councils to take decisions across boundaries on issues which extend beyond the interests of any one individual local authority. They are a legal body set up using secondary legislation (Combined Authority Orders) but are locally owned and must be initiated by the councils involved. You can find out more about this in the LGA’s publication Combined authorities: a plain English guide.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill sets out proposals to introduce a new type of combined authority called a County Combined Authority (CCA). These CCAs will be very similar to existing combined authorities, but can only be made up of county or unitary councils. District councils can be covered by the area of a CCA but will not be full (constituent) members of the CCA.
- Where have combined authorities already been established?
Mayoral combined authorities
- Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
- Greater Manchester
- Liverpool City Region
- North of Tyne
- South Yorkshire (formerly Sheffield City Region)
- Tees Valley
- West Midlands
- West of England
- West Yorkshire
- North East Combined Authority
You can find out more on our page about combined authorities.
- How is a combined authority formed?
There are multiple routes to establishing a combined authority. Under the original procedure from the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, a council or group of councils may carry out a ‘governance review’, which must publish a ‘scheme’ recommending the creation of a combined authority. Publication of the scheme requires the consent of the local authority areas included in the scheme. The Secretary of State may then agree to create a combined authority via secondary legislation.
Alternatively, via the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, the Secretary of State may decide to establish a combined authority, if the councils in the relevant area consent. The Secretary of State must hold a public consultation, unless one has already been carried out locally and a ‘scheme’ has been published. The Secretary of State must be satisfied that the establishment of a combined authority is likely to “improve the exercise of statutory functions” in the area in question.
An existing combined authority may be changed into a mayoral combined authority via a further Order made by the Secretary of State. All the member authorities must consent to this. However, the Cities and Local Government Devolution 2016 Act provides that any authorities that do not consent must be removed from the combined authority when the elected mayor is established.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill sets out the process for forming a county combined authority (CCA). If this Bill becomes legislation, the Secretary of State will be able to establish a county combined authority. The two conditions for establishing a CCA are that it must cover the whole of the area of a two tier county council, and the whole of one or more of the area of a two tier county council, the area of a unitary county council, or the area of a unitary district council; and that no part of the area of the CCA can be part of any other CCA, combined authority, or the integrated transport area of an integrated transport authority. Unlike MCAs, only county councils or district councils can be constituent members of a CCA. District councils can be non-constituent members, which are by default non-voting members unless the existing constituent members resolve otherwise.
The Bill allows for non-constituent members be drawn from a wider pool than just district councils, as other local organisations such as universities or business groups could be given non-constituent member status. The Bill also includes provision for associate members, who are individuals appointed to the CCA. Associate members are also by default non-voting members of the CCA.
The Secretary of State may only establish a CCA if they consider that establishing it is likely to improve the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of some or all of the people in the area, considers the need for effective local government, reflects the identities and interests to local communities, that it will achieve the purpose(s) set out by the proposal, that the constituent councils of the CCA consent, and public consultation has been carried out.
For more information, please see the LGA’s Combined Authorities – A plain English Guide.
- How are mayoral combined authorities structured?
The directly elected mayor is a member of the combined authority. The mayor has one vote, however combined authority legislation often requires the mayor’s vote is included in majorities in favour of a decision. As a result, the mayor has a veto over some of the authority’s decision-making and member authorities may not be able to make decisions in these instances.
The legislation setting up the combined authority may confer functions only on the mayor or combined authority and this is important as the participating local authorities also have specific powers as members of the combined authority.
Although not a requirement, mayors are given the opportunity to establish a ‘cabinet’ consisting of local authority leaders representing the member authorities as well as the opportunity to appoint a ‘political adviser’. Functions can then be delegated to Cabinet members, committees, or combined authority officers. Appointment to cabinet portfolios is separate from the ‘membership’ role that local authorities have within combined authorities.
- Who are the combined authority mayors?
- Dr Nik Johnson (Labour), Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
- Andy Burnham (Labour), Mayor of Greater Manchester
- Steve Rotherham (Labour), Mayor of Liverpool City Region
- Jamie Driscoll (Labour), Mayor of the North of Tyne
- Oliver Coppard (Labour), Mayor of South Yorkshire (formerly Sheffield City Region)
- Ben Houchen (Conservative), Mayor of the Tees Valley
- Andy Street (Conservative), Mayor of the West Midlands
- Dan Norris (Labour), Mayor of the West of England
- Tracy Brabin (Labour), Mayor of West Yorkshire
London is not a combined authority, but has a directly elected mayor:
- Sadiq Khan (Labour), Mayor of London
Combined Authority Mayor Party Dates of office Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Nik Johnson Labour May 2021- present James Palmer Conservative May 2017- May 2021 Greater Manchester Andy Burnham Labour May 2017-present Liverpool City Region Steve Rotherham Labour May 2017-present North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll Labour May 2019-present Norma Redfearn (interim Mayor) Labour December 2018-May 2019 South Yorkshire Oliver Coppard Labour May 2022-present Dan Jarvis Labour May 2018-May 2022 Tees Valley Ben Houchen Conservative May 2017-present West Midlands Andy Street Conservative May 2017-present West of England Dan Norris Labour May 2021- present Tim Bowles Conservative May 2017-May 2021 West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin Labour May 2021- present London (not a combined authority) Sadiq Khan Labour May 2016-present Boris Johnson Conservative May 2008-May 2016 Ken Livingstone Labour May 2000-May 2008
- How long does a mayor's term run for?
Directly elected mayoral terms usually last for four years.
- What is the role of a combined authority mayor?
A combined authority mayor is the directly elected leader of a region with two or more councils areas within it. These areas have so far been focussed on city regions, but the Levelling Up White Paper has opened up the possibility of combined authorities for rural councils too. Mayors chair the combined authority, bringing together the leaders of all councils in the combined authority area.
Combined authority mayors hold different powers depending on the devolution deal for their area. All mayors hold powers over spatial planning, regional transport, skills training and elements of economic development, but other powers vary. For example in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, the mayor also holds Police and Crime Commissioner powers, and in Greater Manchester the mayor manages devolved health and welfare budgets. Mayors can also soft powers, such as convening partners and acting as an advocate for their area regionally and nationally.
Although mayors do not all have the same powers, they are all responsible for the devolved powers to their area, and any funding that comes with these powers. They also provide a single accountable point to central Government. You can find out more about the different approaches mayors may take in our Devolution deal to delivery guide.
Combined authority mayors are distinct from local authority mayors. Local authority mayors may be directly elected as the leader of their council, or it may be a purely ceremonial role in councils where there is a separate council leader from the mayor, or the council is run via a committee system.
- What does having a directly elected mayor mean for police and crime commissioners?
The Mayor of Greater Manchester’s role was combined with the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in 2017 as the two roles can be merged if the commissioner agrees. In May 2020 the Mayor of the West Midlands took on the role of PCC and the West Yorkshire Mayor took on the role of PCC in following their election in May 2021.
The Levelling Up White Paper sets out the Government’s plan to have all combined authority mayors lead on public safety, taking on the PCC where boundaries align. The White Paper also commits to removing barriers to combined authority taking on public safety functions, so that existing or planned mayoral combined authorities with coterminous boundaries can hold not just PCC powers, but also Fire and Rescue functions.
- How are local decisions scrutinised within a combined authority?
A combined authority is legally required to establish at least one Overview and Scrutiny Committee and an Audit Committee. The mayor and members of the combined authority must respond to the reports and recommendations produced by these committees. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee has the power to ‘call-in’ decisions that have been made but not implemented and can ask that these decisions be reviewed. The committee can also require the mayor, members or officers of the Combined Authority to come before it and answer questions; any such request must be complied with.