Examining the role of 'informal governance' on devolution to England's cities


Project Description

In July 2015 Dr Sarah Ayres (University of Bristol and Board Member of the Regional Studies Association) was appointed Chair of the Political Studies Association’s (PSA) first Research Commission. The aim of the PSA’s Research Commissions is to address issues of current importance to the study and practice of politics and to lead current debates in public life and society. The Commission, chaired by Sarah Ayres, has examined how ‘informal governance’ is shaping devolution to English cities. She has worked in collaboration with the following Commissioners - Paul Buddery (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), Dr Jo Casebourne (Institute for Government), Tessa Coombes (University of Bristol), Ed Cox(Institute for Public Policy Research) and Mark Sandford (House of Commons Library) - to examine the impact of informal governance on both the effectiveness of decision making around the recent devolution deals in England and its impact ondemocracy.

Project Summary

The aim of this Research Commission is to investigate how ‘informal governance’ is shaping devolution in 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. The issue of informality in devolution debates is timely as the UK government is proposing a range of ‘devolution deals’ with core cities. Each of these deals is to be individually brokered - a combination in reality of formal ‘front stage’ politics and informal ‘back stage’ negotiations. This Commission has brought together leading academics, learned societies and practitioners to examine this process in detail and to explore the complex inter-play between the formal and informal processes guiding constitutional change in England.

Project Methodology

The Commission conducted a detailed literature review and invited a number of stakeholders to meet with us face-to-face at an evidence gathering session in December 2015. Thirteen key actors from (i) central government (ii) research bodies and think tanks (iii) cities where deals had been struck and (iv) cities currently negotiating a deal were able to give evidence at this session. Respondents were interviewed under ‘Chatham House’ rules whereby confidentiality and anonymity were assured. Our findings were also informed by the Commissioners related research, inquiries and contacts. Our findings cover six key areas that explore different facets of the process of negotiating devolution deals up until the period ending in 2015, namely:

Project Findings

Based on the evidence presented in our final report (Examining the role of informal governance on devolution to England’s cities (PDF, 409kB), the Commission offers the following recommendations:

Watch the PSA commissioners discuss the evidence presented in the final report on film:

Sarah Ayres - Part I

Sarah Ayres - Part II


Matthew Flinders

Darren Johnson

Ed Cox

Jo Casebourne

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