Last week the Queen’s Speech outlined the Conservative government’s priorities, including a push for increased devolution in areas of the United Kingdom. Devolution plans for Wales over energy, transport and elections were covered. The plans outlined build on David Cameron’s previous announcement, which promised increased autonomy for Wales dubbed ‘Powers for a Purpose’. The plans presented in the Queen’s Speech follow, with the promise of extra devolved powers for Scotland and a movement towards regional devolution that may provide major UK cities and regions increased powers.
The Conservative government aims to provide areas of the United Kingdom with greater control of their own affairs. According to The Implications of Devolution for England – which was presented to Parliament – the Conservative Party reportedly believe that, within England, decentralisation of power may increase social responsibility and civil involvement. Although, this devolution is to extend beyond the countries within the union to regions such as Manchester. Following the election, George Osborne announced that many English cities may receive powers over housing, transport, planning and policing. This plan has been referred to as the Cities Devolution Bill which may provide elected mayors for combined authorities. An example of this is Greater Manchester, which aims to gain powers when it elects a mayor in two years. The mayor is to be in charge of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, in which councils currently control £5bn and may gain control to an additional £2bn in local spending.
The effect of the Scottish referendum on the devolution debate might be apparent due to the awareness raised regarding decentralisation of power in the United Kingdom. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government attempted to protect the union by offering Scotland increased devolved powers if it remained within the UK. The referendum raised the possibility of ‘English votes for English Laws’, which means that of Members of Parliament representing English constituencies may vote on laws just with respect to England.
The aims of devolution might be considered to revolve around attempting to provide enough decentralisation so that areas such as Scotland may remain within the UK. Also, the government is looking to increase the powers of regions and cities that feel they require greater autonomy over their own affairs. Greater powers for local and regional authorities may increase awareness and participation at this level of government. Interestingly, the devolution of some powers might trial dynamic ideas such as Scotland’s allowance of 16 year olds to vote and the availability for Wales to choose a different electoral system in its elections for seats on the Welsh assembly. Perhaps some of these ideas may be incorporated within UK-wide policy – with there already reportedly being calls for 16 year olds to be allowed to vote in the referendum on European Union membership.
The coming parliament may see an important change in governance within the United Kingdom. Devolution may see government focusing on increasingly local or regional issues whilst allowing these authorities to fund policies and initiatives that speak to the needs of their area. The possibility of a movement towards a more federalist United Kingdom with fiscal autonomy for the four constituent states may still be feasible. Devolution may begin to create a personalised way of governance whilst providing areas freedom regarding funding.
The increasing calls for decentralisation appear to be resolved through the government’s coming policy announcements made in the Queen’s speech. A pivot towards decisions being made by the areas they affect most might lead to greater efficiency in the provision of services in areas such as transport and healthcare. Potential decentralisation may encourage increased investment in the areas where it may require funding. Decentralisation seems to be viewed by the government as a useful tool in appeasing those whom may be looking for independence or those that wish for a decentralised government.
How may devolution improve the system of government in the United Kingdom?