Devolution has led to policy sharing fragmentation - report

A lack of evidence-sharing between the four nations of the UK means part of the country could be 'missing out' on policy solutions, a new report has said.
Scotland's free healthcare services are just one of the nation's devolved powers. Image: Lisa FergusonScotland's free healthcare services are just one of the nation's devolved powers. Image: Lisa Ferguson
Scotland's free healthcare services are just one of the nation's devolved powers. Image: Lisa Ferguson

The creation of the Scottish Parliament and devolved assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland “radically changed the nature of the British state”, it added.

But the lack of sharing of best practice between the different parts of the United Kingdom has hindered its potential as a “policy laboratory” where different approaches to tackling common problems can be tested out.

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The new report on devolution was produced by the Alliance for Useful Evidence and the Institute for Government, in partnership with the Carnegie UK Trust.

Since 1999 the different parts of the UK have developed their own policies.

Both Scotland and Wales have brought in free prescriptions, Scotland benefits from free personal care for the elderly and has no tuition fees for its university students while Wales has become the first part of the UK to bring in an opt-out system for organ donation.

The report said this transfer of power between the nations “provides us with a wonderful opportunity to develop and share innovative and creative approaches to social policy”, but also claimed the UK had “failed to live up to this promise of becoming a ‘living laboratory’ for policy exchange and development”.

It complained that “learning across the UK, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales governments remains ad hoc, and there appear to be few formal structures in place to support evidence exchange amongst civil servants across these jurisdictions”.

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In addition, systems to encourage the sharing of performance data are “relatively underdeveloped” while “cultural differences in political control and policy style between the four governments may also limit the appetite for learning and sharing”.

The report stated: “As a result of this lack of evidence exchange, all parts of the UK may be missing out on social innovations that could result in more effective, and cost-effective, approaches to tackling shared policy challenges.”

While it accepted there “are no easy answers to sharing evidence across the UK”, it made a number of recommendations, including the creation of a What Works Centre in Northern Ireland to look at different policies, in line with similar centres in England, Scotland and Wales.

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Ministers should encourage government officials to “develop close relationships with counterparts in other governments”, it added, while performance data should be made more consistent across the different parts of the country.

Report lead author Akash Paun said: “Political and cultural differences, and the absence of joint research and performance data in areas like education and healthcare, limits learning between the four governments.”

Jonathan Breckon, head of the Alliance for Useful Evidence, said: “We know all too well that there are no easy answers to sharing evidence across the UK yet steps must be taken to find a more deliberate and sustained way of developing smarter policy making.”