Kathy has contributed an essay to Voluntary Sector Northwest's publication on devolution, which brings together thoughts from many leaders in the sector and beyond.

Devolution has become an even more complex, potent and challenged concept since Britain voted for Brexit, not only for the ambitions for real devolution within England, but in the unravelling of what the longer-standing devolved arrangements really mean for the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

As more and more economic regeneration deals for ‘city regions’ and combined authorities are being negotiated in England and Wales, and as
more regional elected mayoralties beckon, many passionate people within the voluntary and community sector stand ready to bring their energy to embrace their new structures and representatives. Many, if not most that I speak to, also fear that their local and regional ‘deals’ offer too little room for significant change from ‘business as usual’ for the people, communities and regions who have been paying the highest and most crippling price for Whitehall’s austerity policies. 

One of the groups of people in society for whom all devolution deals are most poorly constructed are children and young people. The removal of vast swathes of schools to Whitehall control, as academies and free schools, leaves the most central and universal of all children’s services and community assets beyond the powers and control of any new combined authority. This must be vigorously challenged (especially as more and more academies are now becoming financially unviable) as must Whitehall’s steep nationwide disinvestment in the local bill for looking after children in care.

I believe the voluntary sector, locally and nationally, must be at the forefront of saying that the litmus test of any society – and any devolved power - will be whether it can create cities and regions fit for everychild and young person, fit for them to grow up healthy, happy, with a sense of pride and belonging, decent job prospects and chances of finding and sustaining a stable home.

This idea of a child-centred litmus test for devolution was powerfully expressed by Simon Cottingham, The Children’s Society’s leader in the West Midlands, in an article for Children England published in January 2016. He laid a profound challenge at the voluntary sector’s door, to confront what he called the ‘ideological quietism’ that too many in the voluntary sector have had to adopt in the ‘marketplace’ of being mere service providers, delivering contracts. He asked:

“If we look at a child who is being abused, or exploited, or who is witnessing domestic violence or who has mental ill health do we end up tacitly accepting the view that the way to help them is to manage them out of their problems? Does the fact that local people might be in charge of local decisions make us feel any more confident that these children will be helped?”

Our belief at Children England is that a society that has children at heart is a better society for everyone. Making child-centredness the litmus test for devolution is not about pitching one need against another, one funding crisis against another funding priority. We are not only concerned for the children’s services and finances left out by national funding and devolution settlements. No community or society that wants greater control over shaping its own future can do so if it lacks the ability to radically change the conditions for children, especially the most vulnerable.

Kathy Evans, CEO, Children England

Read the full paper here.