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After 2010, the UK Government’s espousal of a Localist agenda reflected a rejection of the regional level as the most appropriate scale for sub-national governance. The development of an explicit city regional level of governance is illustrated in the creation of City Deals, which have given some of England’s largest cities increased autonomy to allocate the dividend of local economic growth. More recently, Combined Authorities have been created in larger city-regions such as Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool and the North East of England. These Authorities are tasked with taking on new responsibilities for transport, economic development and other local government functions in their wider conurbation.
In assessing this contemporary reshaping of metropolitan governance, this talk draws upon political economy, spatial and institutional approaches to highlight how austerity, competing spatial imaginaries and the historical evolution of central-local relationships within the UK state have combined to produce a particularly ‘disorganised’ approach to contemporary devolution in England. It contends that while the city region remains the dominant spatial narrative, the ongoing process of rescaling at the sub-national state level falls well short of a being a coherent, clearly thought-out and permanent transfer of powers and fiscal responsibilities to a uniformly defined scale of governance. The politics of the contemporary devolution agenda in England is thus characterised by the emergence of different scalar alternatives. This reflects a jumble of multiple and competing motives in a traditionally centralised polity that, recently, has had to respond to the political ramifications of a much more powerful Scotland, and even the potential break-up of the United Kingdom. While local political leaders at the city regional level have helped shape devolution policy and will have opportunities to shape resource allocation, in such a polity, the outcome is still best viewed as a form of ‘centrally-prescribed localism’.