There's no justification for the 'patchwork quilt' of councils

By Anthony May | 22 September 2020

I have yet to come across anyone in our sector who thinks devolution is a bad thing.

I have heard differing views about the form of devolution but that is why we need a strong, Government-led policy, to give parameters and a road map.

If we agree that devolution is a force for good, and we want our country to recover from COVID, it feels like the right time to bring forward a Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper. There is a palpable sense of anticipation around the White Paper but the air is going out of the balloon, it seems.

If there is a general sense of agreement around the central role of devolution in the future of our sector, perhaps it is time to be bold and get on with it. This might be an oversimplified analysis and I appreciate that some aspects of the thinking behind the White Paper might be controversial, and that it comes at a challenging time.

In my experience, the most effective and sustainable policy is difficult (and there is rarely a perfect moment) but few things change without some level of disruption.

Without in any way trivialising the pain and suffering attached to COVID, there is opportunity coming out of the current crisis.

The extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves have brought out the best in our sector but this does not make the system of local government immune from change, nor does it justify the patchwork quilt, which is the current devolution landscape.

Our current predicament behoves us all to take a step back and ask the difficult questions. It is incumbent on all aspects of the sector to examine what we do, and how we do it.

For better or for worse, the Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper should be a long overdue catalyst for change, and an opportunity to shift power and resources nearer to communities.

Anthony May is chair of the Association of County Chief Executives and chief executive of Nottinghamshire CC

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