Hull & East Yorkshire Devolution: From consultation to relational engagement, action and change

Y-PERN Policy Fellow Dr Juan Pablo Winter and University of Hull colleague Dr Gill Hughes argue that devolution for Hull and East Yorkshire presents a chance to engage communities differently – whether on flooding and coastal erosion or tackling poverty.

The devolution deal for Hull & East Yorkshire first announced in the Autumn Statement 2023 and outlined in the subsequent devolution agreement will provide the area with new powers and funding to potentially increase opportunities and living standards through inclusive growth.

The deal will see an elected mayor given control over funding for housing, job creation and public transport, including £400m in investment over 30 years. After the deal was ratified by both councils, an eight-week public consultation was launched on 2nd January 2024. If approved, the new elected mayor and combined authority could start their work in May 2025.

“The Hull & East Yorkshire devolution deal can be seen as a first step to engaging communities differently … placing communities at the heart of the process.”

Juan Pablo Winter & Gill Hughes

Across England, devolution has sought to transfer selected powers and funding from national to local government and ensure that decisions are made closer to and with the people they affect. This deal represents a significant opportunity for communities to rebuild their trust in local authorities (and understand what they do), sit at the decision-making table and have their voices heard.

The University of Hull is in a position to enhance the consultation process through its engagement activities with both communities and policymakers, working with a distinctive approach to community engagement which is built on two interrelated aspects: (1) Relational engagement and (2) Shifting and sharing power for action and change. This ensures that engagement with partners is focused on creating equitable and relational encounters, which start from needs identified by partners, enabling a more cooperative and collaborative way of working that shifts power and culture in academia to be more responsive – sometimes referred to as a ‘flipped university model’.

This emanates from the successfully trialled Ideas Fund (IF) – a Wellcome Trust funded programme  delivered through the British Science Association in four areas of the UK (Hull being one). Twenty projects are now growing, collaborating and creating ripples and added value across the city and within the university.

A key outcome of the IF is to enable the development of a broader infrastructure, which supports equitable relationships between communities and researchers to ensure sustainability beyond the life of the IF and to allow for the learning to be shared with others interested in working differently. Consequently, the IF provides a new narrative with evidence on different ways of funding, which is capturing the attention of funders such as UKRI and Research England and has contributed to applications for securing Impact Acceleration Awards, now embedded in the Hull Impact and Knowledge Exchange (HIKE) funding at the University.

The Devolution deal also proposes that Hull and East Yorkshire will develop “an integrated approach to create an Adaptation Hub, which is focussed on supporting climate vulnerable communities, supporting adaptation and resilience plans, engagement and delivery of measures”. We believe the most efficient way to use that funding is by working collaboratively, building on existing initiatives and learning from local knowledge. In that vein, the University of Hull has helped create a Water & Coasts Network in Hull and East Riding. As a joint initiative between Risky Cities, Living with Water (LWW – a partnership between 2 local authorities, Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency and the University of Hull) and the Yorkshire & Humber Policy Engagement and Research Network (Y-PERN). We see this network as a connection point for projects, which brings together knowledge exchange between communities, projects and institutions to link into the University.

Similarly, working with LWW offers a partnership approach to working together to simultaneously establish the gaps and needs around flood risk and coastal erosion, which can inform future co-led research and activity. We want to build trust and long-term relationships to enable partnerships to work together and to be in place – in readiness to co-create bid applications, co-develop new ideas for projects, and engage in established projects using participatory, responsive, proactive, and needs-led approaches. This is just an example of what is already happening that can help build connections and collaborations, maximise resources, add value and offer a connected approach to working and engaging with communities and other stakeholders.

Another project the University of Hull has been actively involved in developing and delivering is the Poverty Truth Commission (PTC), where the question is, ‘What if people who struggled against poverty were involved in making decisions about tackling poverty?’ The commissioners comprise two groups; half with lived experiences of the struggle against poverty [Community Commissioners] and half who are leaders within the city or region [Civic Commissioners]. Collectively, they work to understand the nature of poverty and the underlying issues that cause it and explore creative ways of addressing them.

In Hull, several areas have been identified that will benefit from the use of established research or require new research, e.g. mental health services and housing policy. In the PTC, changes occur throughout the intervention, and those involved can see concrete outputs while participating in the process. This, in turn, assists in building relational trust because action happens. An ambition would be to ensure that, beyond the commission, decision-making would include insights from communities to ensure that equity and effective policymaking tackle poverty in the city.

The UK government has recognised devolution as a journey, not a one-off event. In that sense, the Hull and East Yorkshire devolution deal can be seen as a first step to engaging communities differently. By placing communities at the heart of the process, devolution should aspire to build on the Poverty Truth Commission slogan – ‘Nothing about us without us is for us’.

It also represents an opportunity for academics, policymakers, and communities to learn from each other, strengthen their relationships, collaborate, and work together towards more inclusive growth. The projects outlined have social justice as a key driver and aim to develop an appropriate infrastructure to build trusting equitable relationships with policymakers and communities. In supporting the devolution consultation, the University of Hull is thus proactively sharing knowledge learned from engaging with community groups and shifting and sharing power for action and change.

Dr Gill Hughes is a lecturer in Youth Work and Community Development and Education Studies at the University of Hull and is a joint development co-ordinator for the Wellcome Trust funded British Science Association initiative – ‘Ideas Fund’.

Dr Juan Pablo Winter is the Y-PERN Policy Fellow for Hull, East Yorkshire & the Humber, based at the University of Hull.

The visual minute was made by Becky Bryson, an artist from