Regional Party of England logo English devolutionENGLAND’S regions have great potential but have been badly neglected for decades. Our current political and economic system has become grossly imbalanced in favour of London, especially in recent decades. We need English devolution.

English political decision-making is now highly centralised in Westminster, mirroring the UK economy’s current base around the financial City of London. The overwhelming share of public and private investment goes to the south-east.

Examples of this include major transport and regeneration programmes such as London’s east-west Crossrail programme, the High Speed HS2 railway, the Channel Tunnel, Heathrow Airport’s expansion and the Olympic Park site.

No English regions have anything like the political powers of the London Assembly or the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Likewise, English regions compare poorly with similar regions of continental Europe. No western European country is as politically and economically centralised as England. The Regional Party of England wants decentralisation and devolved government.


In recent years, new devolution arrangements and elected mayor deals have been agreed or proposed in some parts of England. Some aspects of these agreements are welcome and offer foundations to build upon. However, the trend is now threatened by the Government’s focus on Brexit negotiations.

So far, most English devolution arrangements are at very early stages. The deals vary greatly from region to region, and are also disputed in some places. As a result, many towns, smaller cities and regions of England, both urban and rural, remain almost invisible and unheard at Westminster.

The Regional Party believes the public needs to be much more engaged in the English devolution process. So far, debates and agreements surrounding  the early devolution deals have mainly involved a narrow group of politicians, civil servants and a few business organisations. Public awareness of English devolution is low and ordinary people are often badly-informed, confused or cynical.

Widespread public mistrust in politics hinders English devolution. Many people think devolution is simply a shift of administration rather democratic decision-making. English devolution deals have also come in an era of prolonged government cuts and austerity. So many people also believe English devolution is just a Westminster political PR gimmick to shift responsibility for cuts, and the public’s backlash, from Westminster to local councils.

The Regional Party also believes English devolution needs to become more engaging, refined and ‘place-based’.  For example, traditional geographic identities, including historic county identities, need to be reflected under devolution while, at the same time, we consider new governance structures and zones to reflect modern economic regions.

Westminster Government should be much clearer about its aims for English devolution and how it will judge future local plans including for example:

  • Geographic boundaries, powers and administration
  • Guidance and examples of the changes the Government would expect or support
  • Explain if and how devolution can be implemented in phases over time
  • A review of public service boundaries and possible realignment
  • Suggest a timetable for future devolution deals

Devolution must include giving greater tax-and-spending powers to regions, allowing local areas more flexibility to decide their own economic and tax priorities. Perhaps local businesses should have a vote on how local business rates should be spent, for example?

Regional policies also needs to be supported by Government industrial and economic policies.

The Northern Powerhouse idea promoted by former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne was an attempt to get the whole of the north of England working together to jointly promote its products, services, expertise and facilities to international clients and investors. The idea created some interest, mainly among the business community, but it has drifted since the Brexit referendum.

Mr Osborne is no longer the Chancellor nor an MP. He became editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper and then promised to work for the interests of London. However, the interests of London may often compete or clash with the interests of other English regions. So where will his loyalties lie then? Who is now championing the north – or other regions of England?


One of the characteristics of early devolution and Westminster’s ‘regional’ thinking in recent years has been to focus on big ‘core cities’ such as Manchester while overlooking, or perhaps neglecting, the vital contribution and needs of smaller cities and towns.

Important new research is revealing the key contributions of towns and smaller cities in wider regional economies. In fact, this suggests that growth and innovation in vital economic sectors can be significantly higher in smaller towns than some fashionable ‘core cities’.

Manchester is held up as one of the ‘core cities’ and often promoted as an example of how other northern conurbations should develop. While it is important to recognise that Greater Manchester’s ten borough councils have a good history of co-operation, the wider Greater Manchester region suffers from a huge north-south divide.

It’s important to acknowledge that Manchester is not typical of other northern cities and towns, including the outlying Greater Manchester boroughs. Its’ economy has always been more diverse. It is less reliant on any single sector or on heavy industry. It is also home to northern offices of London institutions, such as the BBC, unlike most other northern cities and towns.

Furthermore the city of Manchester’s much-heralded ‘regeneration’  is increasingly being questioned by experts. Its’ city centre construction boom has been driven by commercial office, apartment and leisure developments. These overwhelmingly cater for key young workers, many of whom grew up elsewhere, and tourists. In contrast, the modern city centre has hardly any new schools, parks, family homes or community facilities. Beyond the new offices, apartments, restaurants and bars, much of Greater Manchester suffers from poverty, low skills, low wages, social immobility, neglected high streets, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate housing and social cohesion problems.

New research also suggests that Manchester city centre’s commercial office explosion has reduced business and professional presences in surrounding boroughs.

The emerging picture is complicated. However there may well be many lessons to learn from Manchester that could be useful for other regions, towns and cities?

Instead of mimicking Manchester, perhaps other English regions should look to the regions of Holland or Germany, or to Scandinavian countries, where there are arguably better-balanced towns, cities and regions, and healthier economies? Perhaps their patterns of economic development and urban planning can provide a better model for England, rather than a move towards American or Chinese-style big city domination?


Devolution and economic policies need to recognise each region’s unique characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Politicians need a more sophisticated understanding of what drives economic growth in different areas.

Many of the old industrial areas of the north and Midlands have been significantly stripped of traditional manufacturing industry. Low wages, insecure work, town centre decline and long-term unemployment have plagued many post-industrial regions where coal, steel, shipbuilding, chemicals or textiles once dominated. However despite these significant problems, these regions remain home to proud, resourceful and friendly people and important clusters of industry. Indeed, many older industrial regions remain key zones for manufacturing expertise, science, technology, research and development. This mix can be utilised and built-upon for a better future.

England’s regions also include important rural, farming and coastal communities. From market towns and villages, to farmland, forests, moorland, mountains, rivers, ports and sea, England has a diversity of communities and habitats which, again, are vital resources for the future.

Farming, both livestock and arable, and fishing have been heavily regulated (and subsidised in some cases) by Westminster governments and the EU.  Brexit should be an opportunity to think again about our policies surrounding rural issues. We need to start afresh in our policies on food supply and production, farming, rural wages and labour, rural housing and transport, IT infrastructure and technology, seaside towns, fishing, natural resources, wind and tidal energy.


Brexit could offer a fresh start to renew politics and society. However there is a risk that English regional needs and devolution may be ignored while MPs at Westminster focus on UK’s departure from the European Union and potential Scottish independence.

We need Brexit discussions and future deals to reflect regional needs and opportunities. English regions, like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, should work hard to ensure their wishes are fully understood at Westminster. Future trade deals need to reflect the needs of ordinary people, communities and domestic small and medium-sized businesses that genuinely contribute to England’s economic development, rather than global corporations searching for cheap, disposable labour.

Perhaps regional Brexit negotiating committees should be formed? This idea has been suggested by the IPPR North think-tank*. It suggests committees could identify the best type of Brexit that suits each particular region’s economic interests. The IPPR also suggests that local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) should carry out resilience audits to identify threats to their local economy from Brexit. Audits should then be used for a new round of devolution deals tailored for each region.

The Regional Party fully respects the right of people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to decide their futures – but it also wants English devolution, regional needs and federalism to be seriously addressed at Westminster. All these things are possible and can complement each other. We all need new political settlements and democratic upgrades.

* NOTE. The IPPR North think-tank is an independent research organisation that is not allied to any political party. While the Regional Party believes it and other think-tanks, such as Centre For Cities or the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, are carrying out important work which deserves wide discussion, we fully acknowledge their independence. No think-tank is associated with nor endorses the Regional Party.