DEVOLUTION is “creaking at the seams” and intergovernmental relations need “far-reaching” reform, according to leading experts.

In a new report, the Centre on Constitutional Change says a major overhaul around two decades after limited authority was transferred from Westminster.

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The team, which includes experts from Edinburgh and Cambridge universities, says governments in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast face serious difficulties in communication.

And the paper, titled Reforming Intergovernmental Relations in the United Kingdom, proposes a new system of “machinery built around principles of respect, transparency and accountability”.

Co-author Professor Nicola McEwan, of Edinburgh University, said: “Almost 20 years into the UK’s devolution journey, the processes by which its governments communicate are in urgent need of reform.”

McEwan argues that plans drawn up by Westminster to manage some powers set to return to the UK after Brexit have highlighted the need for change.

The issue led to intense debate between parliaments, with the Scottish Government accusing the UK Government of a “power grab”.

McEwan said: “The proposed creation of UK-wide frameworks to manage some of those powers returning from Brussels has highlighted the pressing need for major reforms. We have sought to learn from the combined experience of other countries to recommend a series of reforms that can build a framework of intergovernmental relations that can help all of the UK’s governments to cooperate more effectively, and with more trust in each other, when confronting shared problems.”

This includes reforming the joint ministerial committee to include a “more robust system of dispute resolution” and giving member governments the chance to call extraordinary meetings where necessary.

The plan also includes creating a standing secretariat to promote transparency and a renewed commitment to holding the summits in each capital on a revolving basis.

It also suggests the nominations of ministers to represent England on the body.

And, cautioning against majority votes to decide matters of mutual interest, the paper says opt-outs should be permitted where possible. It states this may result in separate bilateral agreements between the UK Government and the opting-out government, which could ensure that problems, like regulatory divergence resulting in unacceptable market distortions and unfair competition, do not occur.

While the team say Brexit has thrown the tensions between the governments into focus, the paper says this could be the trigger for the creation of a better system, stating: “Brexit provides an opportune moment to review the functioning of the concordats on international relations, and to consider whether the degree of inter-ministerial cooperation that’s envisaged between the UK Government and each of the devolved administrations may be better served by a more formal vehicle.”

Professor Michael Kenny, of Cambridge University, commented: “Mutual respect is at the heart of these recommendations. The sovereignty of Westminster needs to be respected but so does the autonomy of the devolved institutions.

“One thing that was striking when we examined the experience of other countries was the extent to which discussions were conducted – and disputes were resolved – with an understanding that all those involved had something to offer and faced their own pressures. Brexit has put further strains on a system that was already creaking at the seams but it could also act as a catalyst to rebuild trust in a spirit of shared self-interest.”