International studies show that relative levels of regional (de)centralisation are associated with more or less balanced patterns of economic growth, well-being and resilience. Alongside supporting specific levels and types of devolution, prior studies emphasise the quality of local institutions as a key factor underlying balanced growth. This study empirically confirms the relative lack of devolution alongside large and growing disparities across England’s regions. Drawing on an interview-based case study of the West Midlands, we then identify a Catch-22, with devolution predicated on high-quality local institutions caught in a highly centralised system that undermines the development of the required capacity and competency. We identify specific decision-making and resource allocation mechanisms, appraisal and control systems which underpin the dominance of central government agencies in an ad hoc and asymmetric approach to devolution. In combination these limit progress towards locally-driven ‘levelling-up’.
- Economic growth