Examining the role of Informal governance and devolution to Englands cities

Project Details


This report is based on work conducted by the Political Studies Association Research Commission - Examining the impact of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities. It has explored the impact of informal governance on both the effectiveness of decision making around the recent devolution deals in England and its impact on democracy. The report’s findings are based on an in-depth literature review and semi-structured interviews with key actors involved in the devolution deal process.

Project Description

In July 2015 Dr Sarah Ayres (University of Bristol and Board Member of the Regional Studies Association) was appointed Chair of the Political Studies Association’s (PSA) first Research Commission. The aim of the PSA’s Research Commissions is to address issues of current importance to the study and practice of politics and to lead current debates in public life and society. The Commission, chaired by Sarah Ayres, has examined how ‘informal governance’ is shaping devolution to English cities. She has worked in collaboration with the following Commissioners - Paul Buddery (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), Dr Jo Casebourne (Institute for Government), Tessa Coombes (University of Bristol), Ed Cox(Institute for Public Policy Research) and Mark Sandford (House of Commons Library) - to examine the impact of informal governance on both the effectiveness of decision making around the recent devolution deals in England and its impact ondemocracy.

Project Summary
The aim of this Research Commission is to investigate how ‘informal governance’ is shaping devolution in English cities. Informal governance can be defined as a means of decision-making that is un-codified, non-institutional and where social relationships and webs of influence play crucial roles. The issue of informality in devolution debates is timely as the UK government is proposing a range of ‘devolution deals’ with core cities. Each of these deals is to be individually brokered - a combination in reality of formal ‘front stage’ politics and informal ‘back stage’ negotiations. This Commission has brought together leading academics, learned societies and practitioners to examine this process in detail and to explore the complex inter-play between the formal and informal processes guiding constitutional change in England.

Project Methodology

The Commission conducted a detailed literature review and invited a number of stakeholders to meet with us face-to-face at an evidence gathering session in December 2015. Thirteen key actors from (i) central government (ii) research bodies and think tanks (iii) cities where deals had been struck and (iv) cities currently negotiating a deal were able to give evidence at this session. Respondents were interviewed under ‘Chatham House’ rules whereby confidentiality and anonymity were assured. Our findings were also informed by the Commissioners related research, inquiries and contacts. Our findings cover six key areas that explore different facets of the process of negotiating devolution deals up until the period ending in 2015, namely:

• objectives and guidelines,
• content of the deals,
• governance and process,
• engagement and consultation,
• the future,
• commission Recommendations.
Project Findings
Based on the evidence presented in our final report, the Commission offers the following recommendations:

• Procedures for making decisions about devolution deals need to be more open and transparent. There is a need for ‘light touch’ guidance on (i) central government objectives (ii) what policy areas might be included in the deals (iii) characteristics of a successful bid (iv) how implementation might be monitored and (v) central and local government expectations for consultation and engagement.
• The Government needs to better articulate the benefits of a combined authority and metro mayor if broad support for this element is to be garnered.
• HM Treasury needs to stay involved in the implementation of devolution deals to ensure that the commitment to and momentum behind the deals remain.
• There needs to be more emphasis on sharing good practice about how deals are negotiated across Whitehall departments and local areas to promote policy experimentation, learning and innovation.
• Combined authorities need to move quickly to drive public engagement and wider stakeholder collaboration in implementation.
See the links section to watch the PSA commissioners discuss the evidence presented in the final report on film.

Key findings

It concludes that the devolution agenda offers a real opportunity to significantly transform the way England is governed. However, devolution to English cities is not sustainable without greater transparency and legitimacy in decision making.
Effective start/end date1/09/151/04/16

Structured keywords

  • PolicyBristolGovernanceAndPublicServices
  • Devolution
  • cities
  • informal governance
  • Whitehall
  • democracy
  • efficiency
  • SPS Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research


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