Public ‘not told’ about local devolution deals, -BBC

Manchester skyline

Greater Manchester has been at the forefront of the devolution of powers from Whitehall


Councils in England must do a better job of telling residents about new powers they are being given by Whitehall, MPs have said.

The government’s “devolution revolution” to councils includes housing, transport and planning.

The Communities and Local Government Committee welcomed the policy but said there was a “significant lack of public consultation” in the process.

Councils said they recognised the “need for greater public engagement”.

Greater Manchester has been at the forefront of the government’s move to devolve powers and spending controls to local government through a series of “deals” with each area.

‘Angry tones’

Chancellor George Osborne has hailed Manchester’s deal as creating a “Northern Powerhouse”, and similar agreements have been struck with other regions in England, which have to adopt ministers’ preferred model of an elected mayor in return.

The committee said it strongly supported the principle of devolution, saying the current deals “should be the starting point, not the destination”.

But the MPs, who held a public evidence session in Greater Manchester as part of their inquiry, also said many people had complained about a lack of consultation.

“The vast majority of contributions, often made in angry tones, arose from the perceived lack of efforts by the combined authority to engage the public about the deal relating to their local area,” the committee said.

“For devolution to take root and fulfil its aims, it needs to involve and engage the people it is designed to benefit. There has been a consistent very significant lack of public consultation, engagement and communication at all stages of the deal-making process.”

Council leaders from other parts of the country told the committee the public had not been consulted before their deals were agreed.

‘Rapid pace’

It is particularly important to engage the public where health powers are being devolved, the MPs said, because “the public’s response is likely to be more emotional”.

The committee said the government had driven the first wave of devolution deals through “at rapid pace”, which meant “no opportunity for engagement with residents”, but said council leaders should still have communicated the deal to residents and told them how they would be affected.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said it welcomed the committee’s support for its “devolution revolution” and said there was “no one-size-fits-all approach” for different areas.

Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter said: “While it is right that devolution deals are not imposed, but negotiated and secured by local places, we recognise the need for greater public engagement throughout the deal-making process and are working with councils to support them in this.”