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Devolution good news for circular economy

Environmental policy think tank, Green Alliance, argues that the progressive shift towards city devolution could have positive ramifications for circular economy business models.

Environmental policy think tank, Green Alliance, argues that the progressive shift towards city devolution could have positive ramifications for circular economy business models.

Despite being a hot topic across the UK – particularly in Greater Manchester, which has recently signed a landmark deal with government – devolution of power to cities has so far received little attention by green economy advocates. 

However, Jonny Hazell, senior policy advisor at Green Alliance, argues that, given the history of greater ambition shown by cities to tackle environmental issues, city devolution could open up new opportunities for a low carbon transition. 

Circular economy

According to Hazell, the touted features of future devolution deals are a particularly strong opportunity to speed up the progress ‘circular’ models of production and consumption at the city region level. 

For example, new tax-raising powers could be used to introduce variable business rates to encourage retrofit and re-use and control over skills budgets could be used to ensure that knowledge of remanufacturing and resource efficiency are better supported in workforce development. 

The opportunity is particularly important given the Government’s refusal last month to endorse recommendations to develop a circular economy by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee

‘Pulling national policy’

“Having newly empowered metros and regions experimenting with policy to support the circular economy could see cities going further and faster than the UK as a whole, and eventually pulling national policy up behind them”, said Hazell. 

“It’s not hard to imagine a coalition of reindustrialised northern cities, Scotland and Wales demanding that central government attends to resource risks to secure the supply of materials that underpin their industries.”

Challenge

However, devolution could also pose challenges to a circular economy. For example, bringing new powers to cities may push current powers, such as the governing of local recycling systems, further down the pecking order.

“The task for circular economy advocates is to ensure that metros are persuaded of the opportunities and are keen to secure the necessary powers in any devolution discussion,” added Hazell.