By Ian Atkinson
DWP commissioned ECOTEC Research and Consulting to undertake a study on effective governance structures for the devolved delivery of employment outcomes. Desk-based research on international approaches to devolving powers from central government to sub-national levels was complemented by a series of case study visits examining devolved approaches being taken forward in Britain. Key findings in terms of applying the lessons learned to potential approaches to devolved governance in the British context are as follows:
- Within devolved governance structures operating in the employment sphere in Britain, the experience and trust built up in recent years indicates that some of the infrastructure required for effectively devolving employment policy is in place, or at least developing well. However, if devolutionary moves are expanded, for example to encompass all sub-regions in Britain, the process of developing an infrastructure to support devolved governance on a wider scale is likely to be a long-term undertaking, particularly in light of the fact that some areas will be starting from a much lower base.
- There remain concerns amongst actors operating at the devolved level over the pace and scope of change, and local capacity to respond to this, should moves towards devolution increase. In such a context, central government and its departments would have a key role in ensuring that devolved governance can be operationalised at the sub-national level. This role is likely to encompass the provision of capacity building support for local actors, along with recognition that time, support and guidance are significant in ensuring that the cultural shifts essential to successful devolved governance can be achieved.
- A well balanced approach to performance management and accountability is essential in the devolved governance context. Approaches to monitoring and managing performance should reflect the totality of activities undertaken within devolved arrangements. Equally, they should be carefully designed so as to effectively support the development of activities at devolved levels whilst not driving decision making.
- Where innovation is a desired outcome from developing devolved governance structures, promoting such innovation is as much about how those structures are implemented and managed as about the type of governance approach adopted. As such there is a requirement for active and ongoing intervention to maintain a focus on innovation as an explicit desired outcome, along with support and guidance to develop reciprocal trust between central and local levels.
- In the context of the greater use of contestability and market-based systems as one route to devolved governance, there is a need for ongoing attention, co-ordination and management on the part of Government to ensure this complements, and does not cut across, devolved multi-agency partnership approaches in the shape of Multi-Area Agreements and City Strategy Pathfinders.