MPs ask: has devolution delivered for the people?

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THE impact of devolution on education, health and justice is to come under the spotlight in an audit carried out by three powerful Westminster committees to find out whether it has delivered for people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The select committees for the three Celtic nations will gather results in these devolved areas to see how they rate among the best in the world.

The committees will look first at education before turning to the standards of health and justice in the devolved regions to see whether the transfer of powers has delivered better public services in these areas.

The inquiry comes amid questions from MPs who are devolution sceptics. They believe handing power to assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has not always delivered better outcomes in important services.

The move by the select committees comes as the UK Government prepares to hand more control to the Scottish Parliament, including extra powers over income tax. A referendum will also be put to people in Wales, asking them if they want their assembly to have more control. Potentially, the investigations could be embarrassing for MSPs and their Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts, and raise questions about the point of devolving power beyond being more democratic.

Notably, the one major study carried out by the Centre for Public Policy for the Regions in 2009 suggested school results in Scotland had "flatlined" since devolution, despite up to 20 per cent more being spent on education north of the Border than in England and Wales.

The initial focus of the committees on education also ties in with major reforms to English classrooms being brought in by the coalition government, including a massive expansion of academies and the creation of "free" schools.

The Scotsman understands that the proposal to assess devolved public services has come from Scottish Labour MPs and is to be put to the new Scottish affairs select committee by its chairman, Glasgow South West MP Ian Davidson.

Mr Davidson has for several years been asking for comparative figures on results for public services in England and Scotland in his roles on the public accounts and Scottish affairs committees.

Central Ayrshire MP Brian Donohoe, who has also been lobbying for a devolution audit, said: "The trouble is that we do not know whether it has delivered better outcomes or not in services. After more than a decade, the time is right now to carry out a study like this and see if devolution is delivering where it counts."

It is understood that Mr Davidson is keen to proceed with a series of inquiries and studies.

He has already held talks with the Tory chairs of the select committees for Northern Ireland and Wales.

David Davies, the Welsh affairs chairman, and a leading devolution sceptic, said: "We have had some very good discussions and I think we all agree that it is a good idea and something that would be useful for the three committees to pursue together."

One leading figure in the first inquiry is likely to be Glenrothes MP Lindsay Roy, a member of the Scottish affairs committee and a former top headmaster.z

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