OPINION: In the policy fog of devolution

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust

Devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland promised a whole new era in policy making. But, four years on, has it happened?

Devolution has certainly opened up new avenues for policy. On a wide range of issues, including tuition fees, children's rights and charity law reform, momentum for policy change across the UK has increased as a result of the action of the devolved administrations.

But it also feels as though UK policy has become a whole lot foggier since devolution. Keeping abreast of changes in policy and practice across the four nations has become much more difficult. And a limited understanding of what is going on in different corners of the UK presumably means that there have been missed opportunities to learn lessons from policy 'experiments'.

The problem boils down to communication. There remains a desperate need to find better ways to synthesize complicated information about policy developments in each of the four nations - digestible summaries about what is happening where, what is working and what isn't. There have been some noble attempts to do just that, via web sites and policy forums.

But I've yet to find a straightforward way to keep up with diverging policy and practice.

The Prime Minister's decision to turn the Secretary of State posts for Scotland and Wales into part-time jobs is fitting, given that the very purpose of devolution is to decentralise power and responsibility away from Westminster. But the case for greater centralisation of information about policy post-devolution has become more pressing than ever.

It is not enough to rely on government departments to keep on top of the changing policy landscape across the UK in relation to their own policy areas.

Surely the time has come for the setting up of a UK organisation to co-ordinate information-sharing across the four nations, for the benefit of all those who believe that policy making is best informed by what works and that no one nation should be the guardian of good ideas.

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