How is devolution changing our relationship to power?

I regularly find myself exasperated at national politics. At the painstaking lengths people will go to provide opposition, at the lack of evidence-based policy making, and the general impression that it is all a bit of a mess.

Molly Bishop is Housing Options Development Officer at Stockport Homes

Molly Bishop is Housing Options Development Officer at Stockport Homes

29 October 2018

I expected devolution to be different, and it is. Whilst it is still messy, this mess is one out of which good things can grow. So far, devolution seems to me to bring change in two main ways, through a new proximity to power and a new and more fluid relationship with power.


If power is the ability to compel action then devolution moves this power closer to street-level. Decision-makers are close enough to hear those being affected, or in the best cases they are those people. 

At this proximity:

Politics is more practical. Ideological differences are easier to break down when there are tangible options linked not just to people and need, but also to place.

There is impetus to be involved. Influence and power to make change becomes real and people and organisations are driven to advocate, represent and be part of the action.

We collaborate better (financially and structurally). With tangible change on the horizon, people and organisations realise that it is more important to be part of a solution than wait for the perfect solution.


Language can be deceiving; we say “they are in power” “it’s where the power lies” “it’s a seat of power.” These phrases hide the fact that power is not simply received or held, it is constantly sought and contested.

The implications of this?

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Mayor’s Office do not hold all the cards, they are themselves players in the game.

Governance is shifting. It is yet to be seen what forms and structures of governance will prevail in the long term and who they will be made up of.

Devolution does not come as a done deal – it is a city deal which is for the city to define and bring to life. Everything is up for discussion and it’s not always clear who is holding the reins. There is no promise of a better system, but there is opportunity for one.

So how should the social housing sector be taking advantage of these trends and use them to win?

Firstly we need to know what winning looks like… then we need to sell the vision.

Collectivising under a Greater Manchester Housing Partnership is a big move in the right direction. Key strengths are being highlighted collaboratively and a coherent voice for the sector is being projected. We need to get much better at laying out a vision of scale and collective power, telling the story of not just what we do now but what we can do in the future and the system wide change this will bring.

We need to think carefully about who we are telling our stories to, understanding the continued interests of Local Authorities, despite the new Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), this is where commissioning is still likely to happen and this is where the new Local Care Organisations (LCOs) sit. Our influencing and messaging must be tuned into this power balance between local and city-wide structures.

Finally, we need to embed ourselves into the long term governance structures that are developing. If we can’t get what we want now, we need to be able to get it in the future. Right now governance is in flux, and we need to place ourselves in key positions so that we remain there when things settle down.



At the National Housing Federation, we promise to help housing associations influence devolution to create the best possible environment for social housing and your customers. The devolution hub is at the heart of how we will deliver on this.

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