Research Projects

Project title: Making accountability work under English devolution

Abstract

Since the late 1990s, devolution has turned the United Kingdom into one of the most heterogeneous institutional settings amongst European countries. Fiscal and political devolution has travelled further and faster in Scotland, whereas it has adopted a more limited path in Wales and Northern Ireland. More recently, the Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 launched a process of devolution in England that has resulted in the creation of several local Combined Authorities with directly elected metro-mayors (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West of England and West Midlands). All these reforms have been grounded on the democratic and efficiency promises of devolution, but the assumptions on the democratic benefits of devolution remain untested.

The creation of Combined Authorities in England has been driven by both a democratic and an economic promise. The economic promise has consisted in improved transportation and economic development in the local area, whereas the democratic promise has revolved around the idea of new forms of local democracy associated to direct elections of metro-mayors as well as enhanced representation of local interests.

This project will explore the consequences of English devolution on local democracy. It will do so by focusing on the challenges that the creation of the Combined Authorities and metro-mayors in England poses for accountability at the local level. The creation of the new Combined Authorities poses an informational challenge for citizens on who does what when different administrations are involved in the provision and financing of local services and goods. As it is shown in other multilevel systems of governance (Anderson, 2009, León, 2010, Cutler, 2008, Rudolph, 2003), this informational challenge may undermine citizens’ capacity to identify the responsible authority for the services and goods they receive and to hold the responsible government accountable. These conditions vary across local areas with different administrative decentralization arrangements, and this project will investigate which specific design better meets the conditions to make accountability work.

The project is timely in that there is still very limited empirical evidence on the impact of the creation of new local authorities – Combined Authorities and metro-mayors – in the operation of local democracy. 

*A work-in-progress webpage on the project can be consulted at www.mayoralelections.org 

Funding:

a) Politics Department Impact and Engagement funds (£5000). It funded a post-election survey in two combined authorities: Greater Manchester and West Midlands. 

b) York ESRC IAA Responsive Mode funds (£1500) were used to expand the survey to a third combined authority, namely Liverpool city-region. 

c) General ESRC IAA funds (£9700) were used to organise three pathways to impact events (one in each combined authority where the survey was conducted) in which results of the survey were presented to local practitioners and politicians in each city-region.

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