Boris Johnson to chair council of UK’s devolved administration leaders

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The Prime Minister will chair a council made up of leaders from the devolved governments, as part of a new structure designed to improve relations between administrations around the UK.

The UK Government’s review of relations with the Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government has led to a new three-tier system which brings together ministers from around the UK.

Michael Gove says all four administrations have agreed to the rules, which are aimed at avoiding disputes and resolving them when they occur.

A team of civil servants seconded from the four administrations will form a secretariat for the new council.

Mark Drakeford will also be part of the council (PA)

Boris Johnson said: “When team UK pulls together in common cause, spirit and endeavour we will always be at our very best.

“We’ve shown time and time again the combined strength we have in facing off the shared challenges before us, while also seizing the opportunities ahead for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom.

“Today’s announcements build upon that strength as we all continue to work together to deliver for the British people.”

Mr Gove, who is the Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, said: “Devolution has empowered communities and resulted in huge benefits across the United Kingdom.

“Today’s landmark agreement will build on the incredible amount of collaboration already taking place between the UK Government and the devolved administrations.

“By working together even more effectively, we can better overcome the challenges we face, create greater opportunities and improve people’s lives for the better.”

Regional cabinet meeting – Bristol
Michael Gove said there was already ‘an incredible amount of collaboration’ (Steve Parsons/PA)

Below the council chaired by the Prime Minister, which will meet at least once a year, the second tier will consist of two inter-ministerial standing committees, one chaired by Mr Gove and the other focussed on finance.

The third tier consists of inter-ministerial groups which will hold regular meetings on issues such as health, transport and education.

The UK Government says this will make collaboration and information sharing among the four administrations more transparent and accountable.

Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, welcomed the new structure. He said: “The final package of reforms builds on the draft set of proposals that was published on 24 March last year.

“Further progress has been made since then to strengthen the package, focusing on the concerns we expressed with the earlier proposals.”

He added: “Overall, the package has the potential to deliver significant improvements, if the spirit and content as set out in the package is translated through into consistent approaches and actions, based on respect, parity of participation and parity of esteem, and a desire to reach agreement through discussion (and indeed compromise) not imposition.

“All four Governments have a responsibility to live up to these principles.”

John Swinney
John Swinney (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “This rebranding of existing structures will not deliver the step change in attitude and behaviour from the UK Government that is needed if there is to be a genuine improvement in intergovernmental relations – what is urgently needed is a corresponding change in the substance of engagement.

“The UK Government’s handling of Brexit, and imposition of the UK Internal Market Act 2020 which reduces the powers of the Scottish Parliament, despite explicit refusal of consent under the Sewel convention, show that procedural improvements alone are not enough to reset the relationship.

“The real test will be whether the UK Government is capable of delivering the goodwill and trust for improved intergovernmental relations and that the proposed arrangements lead to more meaningful engagement with productive outcomes.”

Commenting on the new arrangements, Jess Sargeant of the Institute for Government think tank said previous structures were rarely used and considered unfit for purpose.

The senior researcher said: “The new structure commits to annual meetings between the Prime Minister and the leaders of the devolved administrations through a new council, monthly meetings between senior ministers on devolved matters, and regular discussions between department on policy issues like net zero, agriculture and education.

“The new arrangements are more jointly owned than before, with an independent secretariat serving all four governments, rather than being run out of a UK government department.

“There is also a new dispute resolution procedure designed to deal with disagreement in a fairer way that can draw on independent advice, rather than the UK government being judge, jury and executioner.”

She added: “If we are to move to a more cooperative and collaborative era for the Union, all four governments must demonstrate a willingness to work together.”

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