UK ‘almost most centralised developed country’, says Treasury chief

By on 27/01/2015
Sharon White, second permanent secretary at HM Treasury, United Kingdom

The UK is “almost the most centralised developed country in the world”, UK government finance chief Sharon White has told a public debate.

Speaking at an event organised by a UK think-tank the Institute for Government on 20 January, White said that, compared to other countries, the UK “jumps out in terms of the degree of centralisation”.

However, White, who is responsible for overseeing the UK’s spending cuts in her role as second permanent secretary at HM Treasury, added: “There’s pretty good cross-country data that [shows that] decentralisation tends on average to be more closely associated with both stronger growth and better public services; that is not very very detailed decentralisation, but a more federated system.”

One member of Parliament, Graham Allen, who also chairs the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, went so far as saying that the government’s reluctance to devolve powers away from London gave a boost to the campaign for Scottish independence.

Scotland rejected independence in a referendum vote last September, after the British government promised to devolve more powers to Scotland if it remained part of the UK. And on 22 January, UK prime minister David Cameron announced a historic transfer of powers to Scotland, as part of a draft bill.

Under proposals, Scotland will be able to set income tax rates, have some influence over welfare spending, and be given the authority to decide how the Scottish parliament and other structures are elected and run.

The bill has been criticized by Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon who said it was a “watered down” version of the proposals promised by Cameron ahead of the referendum. However critics fear that the bill, to be enacted after a general election on May 7, could trigger the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom.

The devolution debate preceding the referendum and the vote itself spurred demands from some politicians for similar moves in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well other parts of the world.

Almost 2m Catalans voted in favour of seceding from Spain in a symbolic referendum on 9 November. The unofficial poll in the wealthy northeastern region followed a legal block by Madrid against a more formal, albeit still non-binding ballot which regional leaders had originally pushed for. Supporters hoped the vote would fuel the independence debate despite opposition from Madrid.

Sharon White, who has spent 25 years working in the public sector and government, is leaving the Treasury at the end of March to lead media regulator Ofcom.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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