Last edited 17 Oct 2016



[edit] Introduction

Devolution is the granting of powers away from central government to a sub-national level, such as regional or local, enabling the creation of legislation specific to that particular area. It is a form of decentralisation that provides territories with greater autonomy and independent responsibility.

The difference between devolution and federalism is that any powers devolved to authorities on a sub-national level may only be temporary, and as such legislation passed by them can be repealed or amended by the central government of the sovereign state.

[edit] Devolution in the United Kingdom

Public referenda on devolution were held in 1997 in Scotland and Wales, and the following year in Northern Ireland. This resulted in the creation a National Parliament in Edinburgh, a National Assembly in Cardiff and a National Assembly in Belfast together with the democratic election of officials to serve within them. The aim was to transfer decision-making powers away from the UK Parliament, whilst still maintaining authority over the devolved institutions.

[edit] Devolution to Scotland

The Scottish Parliament took responsibility for their devolved powers on 1 July 1999 after the passing of the Scotland Act 1998. The crucial difference between having a Parliament as opposed to an Assembly is a parliament can create legislation in devolved areas. The Scottish Parliament also has the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by 3p in the pound (although this power has not been exercised since 1999).

The devolved powers include:

  • Health and social work.
  • Education and training.
  • Local government and housing.
  • Justice and policing.
  • Agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
  • Environment.
  • Tourism, sport and heritage.
  • Economic development and internal transport.

The UK Parliament retains its powers over matters such as foreign affairs, defence, energy, immigration, and so on.

[edit] Devolution to Wales

The National Assembly for Wales took responsibility for their devolved powers on 1 July 1999, and the Government of Wales Act 2006 gave the Welsh Assembly additional powers to make its own laws, limited in scope to defined ‘subjects’. These include:

  • Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development.
  • Ancient monuments and historic buildings.
  • Culture.
  • Economic development.
  • Education and training.
  • Environment.
  • Highways and transport.
  • Housing.
  • Town and country planning.

The assembly is split into executive and legislative branches. The Welsh Assembly government controls the running of devolved policy areas, while the National Assembly for Wales acts as a scrutinising and debating body.

[edit] Devolution to Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Assembly took responsibility for its devolved powers on 2 December 1999 after the passing of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Power was suspended on 14 October 2002 and restored on 8 May 2007. Devolved powers in Northern Ireland are divided into the categories of transferred, reserved and excepted.

Transferred powers that the Assembly has legislative control over include:

  • Health and social services.
  • Education.
  • Employment and skills.
  • Housing.
  • Transport.
  • Economic development.

Reserved powers that the Assembly may legislate on in principle, subject to various consents, include:

  • Import and export controls.
  • Financial services and pensions regulation.
  • International trade and financial markets.
  • Intellectual property.

Excepted powers are those that the UK Parliament retains responsibility for.

[edit] Devolution to cities

In recent years there have been campaigns to devolve greater powers away from Westminster to other cities, allowing local government more freedom to collect and spend taxes. The view is that empowered cities can be more competitive and incentivised to grow at a faster rate.

In May 2015, Chancellor George Osborne announced that a Cities Devolution Bill will be introduced allowing cities, to take greater control and responsibility over transport and housing, skills, and public services such as health and social care. Alongside this, new city-wide elected mayors will be introduced who will work with local councils.

Devolution is expected to take place in Greater Manchester in 2017, with Sheffield and possibly West Yorkshire following.

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