Devolution deals undermined by cuts and ineffective employment policy, research finds

Sheffield pageDevolution is being used to implement further austerity cuts on the Sheffield City Region (SCR) with disadvantaged groups and areas particularly affected, new research has found.

A policy brief released today (15 September) on Devolution and disadvantage in the Sheffield City Region: An assessment of employment, skills and welfare policies says that austerity cuts and welfare reforms result in over £1.1 billion in lost income to the SCR, far exceeding the committed £900m the Government has offered over the next 30 years from devolution deals.

The report, authored by Professor Martin Jones from the Department of Geography and Dr David Etherington from Middlesex University also reveals a poorly co-ordinated policy landscape of national and local-based employment and skills programmes being implemented in the SCR, some of which are beyond local influence. The authors argue that there is little transparency on how these initiatives perform and their effectiveness.

In the Sheffield City Region, the study discovered access to the employment and skills system for disadvantaged groups is not being widened, and social and geographical inequalities are increasing. This is undermining the Government’s model of devolution and localism.

In order to have effective city-region based economic growth and social prosperity, the report calls for several areas to be fixed by policy-makers and politicians in further rounds of devolution as a matter of urgency:

  • Promote inclusive governance at the City Region level
  • Design growth strategies to address poverty reduction
  • Redesign welfare to work programmes for target groups
  • Increase emphasis on in-work support and progression
  • Promote employment rights and employee voices within the city region

In late 2014, the UK Government announced its flagship Northern Powerhouse initiative, whereby city regions were to be given more ‘powers’ to develop initiatives in their local areas, in order to regenerate city economies, which for many years lagged behind in terms of growth and prosperity.

However, the authors say that in practice the powers being devolved are often the supervision and delivery of a narrow section of policy activity, rather than allowing city regions any influence over the design, nature and implementation of policy and practice.

The policy brief, alongside the full report, is being launched at the Governing Social and Spatial Inequalities Under Enduring Austerity conference in Sheffield City Hall.

The brief is part of Sheffield Solutions, a new initiative of the Faculty, coordinated by the Social Sciences Partnerships, Impact and Knowledge Exchange team team and supported by the ESRC, which is aimed at bringing together policy makers, practitioners and Sheffield’s social scientists to tackle pressing policy issues.