The UK is one of the most centralised political systems of its size in the world. But last week, Ed Miliband promised he would change all that should Labour be elected in 2015. Broadly, he pledged two things, both of which build on the current government’s decentralising efforts. First, an expansion of the Regional Growth Fund, which would effectively mean that less money going from Whitehall to local authorities would be ring-fenced for specific purposes. Second, he announced that by working together, local areas (‘city and county regions’) and the structures within them – combined authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – would be able to bid for the powers and funding to perform functions currently directed from Whitehall. The set of areas that Miliband promised to devolve was broad, covering housing, back-to-work services, skills funding and transport. As Miliband put it, “each and every authority which can bring forward plans of this sort in the first year of the next Parliament, will receive powers and access to resources from Whitehall the like of which we have not seen in living memory.” There are good theoretical reasons for decentralising, even if the hard empirical case is extremely hard to make. […]

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