Poll points to thirst for greater English devolution

Housing, education and transport are key areas for boosted local control with majority in favour of elected mayors

Liverpool Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and Greater Manchester counterpart Andy Burnham Credit: PA

By Jim.Dunton

31 Jan 2020

A majority of adults in England are in favour greater local determination for key domestic policy areas such as housing and education – as well as the introduction of more elected mayors, according to a new poll.

The survey of more than 1,700 adults – conducted last week by Populus for the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce – found health and climate change policy were the only areas of domestic policy seen as best left to national government.

The RSA said the poll should spur government to proceed with new devolution deals across England, and push for greater innovation from councils in how they involve residents in decisions. It said methods such as participatory budgeting, community-engagement processes, citizen juries, deliberative polling, citizen inquiries and focus group could all be more widely used.


The poll found that 54% of respondents supported the idea of having an elected mayor for their area, with only 26% opposed to the idea. Precisely half of respondents believed elected mayors should only be introduced if local authorities and the government agreed.

In terms of key decision-making on domestic policy issues, the RSA said it interpreted the responses as suggesting people wanted to see most social policy issues decided locally.

Fewer than one in five respondents (18%) said they believed the balance between decision-making at local and national level was “about right”.

On an issue-by-issue basis, 61% said they wanted a more local focus on housing-related decisions; 52% of respondents said they wanted to see greater local input on schools-related decisions – compared with 23% who thought a national-level approach was best.

Policing, social care, planning and economic development, training and skills, were all areas in which local decision-making was preferred above a national approach.

However the report noted that 40% of respondents expressed a preference for national-level decision-making on healthcare, against 36% who preferred a devolved approach; while the national-local split for dealing with climate-change was 61% to 12%.

In last month’s Queen’s Speech, the government is expected to publish a white paper on possible devolution and localism, including plans for spending and local growth funding.

RSA director of power and place Ed Cox said that while English cities and city regions with elected mayors had found those leaders had “quickly become champions” for key local issues, two thirds of the population did not live in an area that had an elected mayor.

“The consequence of a lopsided devolution is that our towns, rural areas and smaller cities risk falling further behind our cities, and city devolution itself has stalled,” he said.

“The public clearly want to see a more local approach than today in most policy areas, but there’s little evidence that councils are much better than national government at engaging the public.

“This means we need to see much more democratic innovation from councils of the kind being used in towns and cities all over the world, in exchange for new powers from central government – including the possibility of a mayor.”

The poll was launched at the Innovating Local Democracy Conference hosted this week by the RSA at the People’s History Museum– in Manchester.

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