As part of the 2023 Autumn Statement, the Government published devolution deals with four new areas of England: Greater Lincolnshire, Hull and East Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cornwall. Once implemented, these deals will bring the total number of devolved areas within England to 18.
This Insight sets out the key developments relating to English devolution in the Autumn Statement.
Current framework for devolution in England
The first devolution deal in England, the Greater Manchester Devolution Deal, was published on 3 November 2014. This deal proposed devolving several powers to a directly elected mayor for Greater Manchester, who would chair a ‘mayoral combined authority’.
The first election took place in 2017. This was the first example of an elected mayor for an extended urban area (comprising several towns, suburbs or cities) since the establishment of the Mayor of London in 2000. Since then, the Government has committed to negotiating a devolution deal with all areas that want one by 2030.
The Government introduced a framework of three different levels of devolution deals in the 2022 Levelling Up White Paper, and it has since introduced a ‘level 4’. The Greater Manchester deal, and other mayoral deals agreed since 2017, equate to level 3 deals.
The Government has also published a ‘scrutiny protocol’, setting out best practice for accountability in devolved areas.
New devolution deals in the 2023 Autumn Statement
In the 2023 Autumn Statement two new level 3 deals were published, for Hull and East Yorkshire, and Greater Lincolnshire. The Government also published the first two level 2 deals, for Lancashire and Cornwall. These areas will receive fewer devolved powers than ‘level 3’ but will not be obliged to establish a directly elected mayoralty.
The Cornwall deal replaces a previous deal that was negotiated in late 2022, which Cornwall subsequently rejected due to public disquiet at the prospect of a directly elected mayor.
The first elections for the mayors in Greater Lincolnshire and in Hull and East Yorkshire are scheduled for May 2025. They will coincide with mayoral elections in West of England, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Suffolk (delayed from 2024).
After the proposed deals have been implemented, English devolution will have extended considerably since its inception, as shown in the map below.
What powers are in the new level 3 deals?
Although the contents of the new level 3 deals are similar to the five agreed in 2022 (East Midlands, York and North Yorkshire, North East, Norfolk, and Suffolk), they are broader than the Government’s long-standing focus on transport, skills, and the economy.
For example, the Hull and East Yorkshire deal includes £15 million for “transport, flood and coastal erosion programmes”. This deal, and the Greater Lincolnshire deal, anticipate the mayor taking on roles around careers advice and resilience. All the deals feature a new “collaborative partnership” with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s national delivery bodies.
Details of the ‘menu’ of powers that have typically been made available in devolution deals so far can be found in the Library research briefing on Devolution to local government in England.
What powers are in the new level 2 deals?
The deals with Cornwall and Lancashire are the first level 2 deals. Lancashire will establish a non-mayoral combined authority (together with Blackpool, and Blackburn with Darwen), and Cornwall Council will exercise the devolved powers itself. Level 2 deals will receive fewer devolved powers, as indicated in the Levelling Up White Paper and the Government’s devolution framework.
This intention is reflected in some of the items not included in the Cornwall and Lancashire deals. Neither area has been offered an annual investment fund, the power to raise council tax, brownfield housing funding, or a single transport fund. However, both areas will manage the Adult Education Budget and UK Shared Prosperity Fund for their areas (these are also available in mayoral areas).
What powers might be in future level 4 deals?
The Government agreed ‘trailblazer devolution deals’ with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands in March 2023. These deals included a range of new powers and a ‘single financial settlement’, replacing a range of individual grants. Alongside the Autumn Statement, the Government published a memorandum of understanding detailing how the single financial settlement will operate.
Since then, the Government has begun to refer to ‘level 4’ deals. The Government’s technical paper on the level 4 devolution framework sets out how areas will be able to apply for a level 4 deal, accessing powers from a list.
The list closely resembles the new powers made available to Greater Manchester and the West Midlands in March 2023. Areas seeking level 4 devolution must be able to “provide confidence in the capacity, governance and culture of the institution to manage its activities effectively and take on further powers”. They would be required to commit to implementing the scrutiny protocol within a year of taking on the new powers.
Level 4 deals will not, at present, include access to the single financial settlement that has been offered to Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
Proposals for further devolution
Think-tanks have published several proposals for additional devolution in the last 12 months. These include:
- A New Britain, published by the Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown (December 2022).
- Funding Fair Growth, published by the Centre for Progressive Policy (Oct 2023).
- In Place of Centralisation, published jointly by the Resolution Foundation and the Centre for Cities (November 2023).
These reports propose devolving additional powers to metro-mayoralties and other localities.
The Centre for Progressive Policy and the Resolution Foundation and Centre for Cities reports include detailed proposals for fiscal devolution of revenues from specific taxes (including income tax, corporation tax and VAT) to devolved areas within England.
Proposals for ‘fiscal devolution’ – where localities either receive assigned portions of national revenues or take on additional tax-raising powers of their own – have been largely absent from debates on English devolution so far. The Government has not indicated whether it will investigate these options.
About the author: Mark Sandford is a researcher at the House of Commons Library specialising in local government and devolution in England.