Canada–United Kingdom Workshop on Devolution, Local Autonomy, and Multi-Level Governance

Cardiff University, UK, February 20–22, 2023

We live in an era of growing demands from local communities for greater autonomy and new moves by central governments to devolve authority and responsibilities to the local level. At the same time, we see growing interest in more integrated multi-level governance as a means of targeting resources to needs across scales.

Debates surrounding these demands and agendas are especially vibrant in the UK and Canada, two countries that appear to share similar governing systems. The past 25 years in the United Kingdom have brought devolution to Scottish and Welsh assemblies and reconfigured self-governance arrangements for Northern Ireland, the creation of an assembly and directly elected mayor for Greater London, the creation of metropolitan ‘combined authorities’ to administer negotiated ‘city deals’ in Manchester other other cities, and a ‘localism’ agenda that replaced an earlier failed ‘regionalism’ agenda. We have also seen place-specific policy agendas targetted at the North, the Thames estuary, and London and the South East.

In Canada, we have seen sometimes acrimonious push-and-pull between the federal government and provinces, a quiet revolution in the legal frameworks that empower local governments in most provinces, the emergence of bespoke big-city ‘charters’, an overhaul of federal-municipal funding arrangements, and the creation of new metropolitan-scale policies and institutions in many of the country's largest cities, all in the context of intensifying demands from local politicians and the public for more autonomy. The federal and provincial governments have also increasingly engaged local governments and the non-profit and private sectors in new, targeted service-delivery models, which some have characterized as examples of multi-level governance.

We invite UK and Canadian scholars from any relevant discipline to collectively explore the following themes at a three-day in-person workshop at Cardiff University in February 2023:

  • How should local autonomy, devolution, and multi-level governance be conceptualized in normative and practical terms? Are they distinct or aspects of the same phenomenon?
  • What causes local autonomy demands, devolutionary projects, and multi-level governance?
  • Can multi-level governance provide a way out of zero-sum conflict between levels of government? If so, how should it be structured?
  • There is a growing trend toward asymmetrical arrangements in both countries, including ‘city deals’ and ‘city charters’. What are the political limits of asymmetry? 
  • What are the dangers of ‘liberalized’ governance regimes?
  • Do local authorities make full use of the autonomy they have? If not, why not?
  • How do parallel devolutionary agendas focused on neighbourhoods, cities, regions, or nations compete with or complement one another?
  • What is the prospect for enhancing self-governance at the neighbourhood scale, given the dominant policy focus on larger, more institutionalized scales of authority?

Goals

By bringing together UK and Canadian scholars, we aim to reveal new comparative insights and promote knowledge exchanges that generate publications and lay the groundwork for establishing a new international research network to explore the intersections between local autonomy, devolution, and multi-level governance.

Format

Workshop participants will attend motivating presentations on normative and practical questions, participate in facilitated thematic discussions, and present a short paper connected to one of the above themes, or a related idea. The schedule is still taking shape, but the following represents the breakdown of themes that has emerged from the participants’ proposals. Each numbered session will intersperse moderated discussion on the theme and presentations on related topics by participants. 

Day 1:
Monday, Feb. 20
Day 2:
Tuesday, Feb. 21
Day 3:
Wednesday, Feb. 22
Morning 2. Defining Local Autonomy and Devolution: Normative Dimensions   5. Power and Resources in Multi-Level Governance

Lunch provided

Lunch provided

Afternoon 1. Welcome,  Introductions, and Setting the Agenda

3. The Political Limits of Asymmetrical Devolution / Local Autonomy

4. Engagement with Practitioners (TBA)

6. Autonomism, Devolution, and Multi-Level Governance as Political Projects

7. Closing Session: What Have We Learned?

Evening Dinner provided

Reception

Dinner provided

Dinner provided

Funding

The workshop is funded by a British Academy/CIFAR Seed Grant and a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Exchange Grant with additional support from Cardiff University. Meals and accommodation will be provided. Air and ground travel costs will be reimbursed up to a maximum amount ($1,000 for Canadian and £250 for UK participants). Receipts will be required to enable reimbursement.

For confirmed participants

Please let us know if you can fully or partially fund your own expenses as it will enable us to subsidize more attendees.

Please also let us know if you require accommodation for the Wednesday night.

Contact

This page will be updated as new information becomes available. For more information, please email the organizers at cardiff@uwo.ca.

Organizers

Dr Zack Taylor
Department of Political Science 
Western University, London, Canada
zack.taylor@uwo.ca  

Dr Matt Wargent 
School of Geography and Planning
Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
wargentm@cardiff.ac.uk


The workshop is sponsored by Western University’s Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance.

Last updated November 21, 2022.