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by Louise Wilson
25 March 2021
Long-awaited Dunlop review calls for UK project fund to strengthen union

Long-awaited Dunlop review calls for UK project fund to strengthen union

A new UK-wide fund to deliver joint projects involving the UK and devolved governments should be established, a long-awaited report on devolution has concluded.

The Dunlop review also recommended any spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by the UK Government should be clearly branded as such.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the report contained “constructive and pragmatic reforms”, many of which were already being taken forward.

But the SNP insisted it was “outdated” and contained “half measures”.

Authored by former Scotland minister Lord Dunlop, the review was commissioned by Theresa May in 2019 following a perceived breakdown in the relationships between governments.

Despite being completed in autumn 2019, the review has only just been made public.

In the foreword, Dunlop said: “A core principle underpinning our devolution settlements is the respect of the UK Government and the devolved governments for each other’s areas of competence. For the last 20 years this has largely worked remarkably well.

“More recently, the working relationships devolution requires have been tested by withdrawal from the European Union. In such a highly contested political space, it is often not possible to resolve fundamental differences.

“It should nevertheless be possible to establish professional working relationships based on a higher level of trust than currently exists.”

He recommended the new fund should help incentivise departments to consider projects which would “strengthen the Union”, as well as support cooperation with the devolved governments.

And while accepting that “overly nationalistic branding would be insensitive in some contexts”, Dunlop said it is important for the public to be aware of what the UK Government funds for accountability purposes.

Other recommendations in his review include the creation of a new senior cabinet post for intergovernmental relations and the constitution, a new sub-committee to support cross-government strategy and reform of the civil service to ensure all departments fully understand devolution.

It also called for the joint ministerial committee to be replaced with a UK Intergovernmental Council with an independent secretariat to improve the relationship between governments.

Dunlop said this committee should look to make co-decisions by consensus, but where this is not possible, there should be “complete transparency on why consensus was not possible and why whatever conclusion has been reached”.

A criticism of the joint ministerial committee is that where there is disagreement, the UK Government has final say regardless of the views of the devolvement governments. Scottish constitution secretary Mike Russell has previously called for an arbitration system to be set up to resolve disputes.

Responding to Dunlop's review, Gove said: “We have carefully studied all of his recommendations and his report has provided the impetus for a wide-ranging programme of reform that I and my colleagues will continue to pursue vigorously.”

But SNP MP Ronny Cowan said: “The reality is that these outdated, half-measures will do nothing to address the simple fact that Boris Johnson's Tory government has repeatedly ridden roughshod over Scotland.”

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