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  • Writer's pictureDavid Marlow

What are Labour’s proposals for devolution and local economic development and in the UK?

Updated: Apr 19

For the second LEDC Espresso shot of April 2024, David and Mike explore what is currently known about Labour's proposals for devolution, local economic development, and placemaking should it form the next UK Government.  In March, the Labour Party published Power and Partnership: Labour’s Plan to Power up Britain, and Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, gave the MAIS lecture. Both give us a clearer picture than hitherto of Labour’s approach to sub-national development. David and Mike discuss some of their key takeaways from both milestones in this Espresso Shot.

2024 UK General Election sign next to Big Ben

What is Labour’s diagnosis of the current situation and what are their intentions going forward?

Labour’s diagnosis is very much in the mainstream of the critique of UK regional inequalities that have been well-rehearsed in many LEDC episodes. The UK in general and England in particular is over-centralised, led by a siloed and sometimes inconsistent national government, with inadequate multi-tier partnership alignment and collaboration.

As is often the case with opposition parties, Labour sees devolution as an important part of the solution in their reform agenda. They envisage a streamlined devolution framework for a universal Combined Authority (CA) intermediate tier in England, extending the model to city-regions and counties currently without them. This would contrast with the current ‘4 levels’ framework that relies on sub-national groupings to form voluntarily and choose their balance of enhanced powers and greater, more focused accountability. These CAs will produce a statutory Local Growth Plan and also have responsibilities for strategic spatial planning. They will have the right to request enhanced powers drawn down from central government and its agencies, and also the right to expect a detailed response to the request as a basis for negotiating a transfer of powers. They will be able to command stable long-term financial settlements.


Unsurprisingly, both narratives are short on how much money an incoming government will be able to allocate to address these issues and how they will be sequenced. Nevertheless, these are policy rather than financial proposals and one can expect further elaboration during an election campaign and in the early days of forming a new government.  

What further work might be done on the Labour Party's agenda for local growth?

David and Mike focussed their discussion on three major issues that merit further attention by LED and placemaking policy analysts and practitioners.


First, how radical and disruptive should an incoming government be in terms of kickstarting new approaches to these issues? Should, for instance, an incoming government impose a universal pattern of CAs with Directly Elected Mayors (DEMs), award them single settlements across England, and seek agreement for something similar from the Devolved Nations? Should they fast-track local government unitarisation in two-tier areas? Might they establish and capitalise Regional Development Banks and explore other new forms of sub-national financing outside the Treasury and departmental silos?


Second, what will Labour’s approach be to reform of the central state? David and Mike discussed the case for a much smaller number of multi-functional ‘super-departments’ or cross-government and multi-tier mission-based boards as new ways of progressing place-based public policy nationally.


Finally, we touched on the genuine tension between Labour’s national proposals for a more muscular National Industrial Strategy and for regional and place-based rights of initiative and flexibility to set their different priorities. What buttons and levers will be needed to deliver effective multi-tier partnership?


None of these questions have singular right answers. Regional and local leadership teams need well-founded proposals for each of them to discuss with the next government. All three issues can and probably should be part of a coherent system-change agenda. Whatever the political complexion of the next government, the devil in the details of Labour’s approach merits being fleshed out.


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