Assessing the impact of ‘informal governance’ on devolution in English cities: A case study of Bristol
- Funder: The Regional Studies Association’s Research Fellowship Scheme
- Lead applicant: Dr Sarah Ayres
- Research centre: Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research
The aim of this research is to investigate the impact of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to English cities. Informal governance can be defined as a means of decision-making that is un-codified, non-institutional and where social relationships and webs of influence play crucial roles. This research involves a case study of Bristol to examine the structures and processes that are currently guiding central-local relations and decisions about devolution in England. The study will be guided by four key research questions:
- In what ways does informal governance shape inter-governmental relations between Whitehall departments and the city of Bristol?
- What is the relationship between formal and informal governance in shaping inter-governmental relations and decisions about devolution in Bristol?
- What are the implications of informal governance for efficiency?
- What are the implications of informal governance for democracy?
This research will provide critical insights into how state and non-state actors are using formal and informal arrangements to manage inter-governmental relations and decisions about devolution to England’s cities.
Background to the research:
In the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, proposals for devolutionary change in England have been made at a rapid pace. This raises questions about what forms of inter-governmental relations and local accountability are required to support further devolution under a Conservative Government. Previous research by the applicant has shown that the global financial crisis and associated austerity measures have led to drastic public spending cuts in UK government departments and a reduced administrative capacity to manage central-local relations (Ayres and Pearce, 2013). One consequence has been the greater use of ‘ad hoc’ procedures and ‘softer’ processes for managing inter-governmental relations between Whitehall and cities (Political Studies Association, 2016). More fluid structures are viewed by Whitehall officials as more suited to deal with the complexity and variability of localism and the problems of managing the English sub-national tier with diminished resources. However, informality raises important questions about accountability, legitimacy and spatial justice.
This research will examine whether the increase in informal procedures are robust enough to support future plans for enhanced devolution to English cities.