Introducing the SPICe intergovernmental activity hub

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SPICe has launched a new intergovernmental activity hub. This hub collates information on intergovernmental activity between the Scottish Government and the UK Government, Welsh Government, and Northern Ireland Executive.

This blog sets out what intergovernmental activity is, why awareness of it is now an essential element of parliamentary scrutiny, and how you can use our new hub. To help with navigation, use the expandable headings below.

What is intergovernmental activity?

‘Intergovernmental activity’ refers to work between governments – in a Scottish context between the Scottish Government and the UK Government or other devolved governments. It can include discussions on areas of mutual interest, policy development, and policy implementation.

Intergovernmental interactions can take place in formal structures often called ‘intergovernmental relations’ (IGR), as well as more informally. The formal structures, through which governments meet regularly, have been in place since January 2022 following a joint review of the system by the UK Government and devolved governments. A SPICe blog explains how IGR mechanisms changed in 2022.

In addition to the formal structures of IGR, governments work together in more informal settings, including through ‘common frameworks’. Common frameworks are intergovernmental agreements which set out how governments will work together to make decisions about policy in certain devolved policy areas, in particular decisions about policy divergence. Common frameworks were originally intended to be used to consider matters which were former EU competences, however, some also state that they may be used to consider related matters within the wider policy area. You can find out more about common frameworks and how the Scottish Parliament is scrutinising them in previous SPICe blogs and our common frameworks page on the hub.

Why is it important to be aware of intergovernmental activity?

A central function of parliament is to scrutinise the policies and actions of government. As such, the Scottish Parliament has a role in ensuring that it is content with the Scottish Government’s part in intergovernmental activity. The UK’s exit from the EU has made intergovernmental work even more important to understand. While the UK was a member of the EU, decisions in many devolved policy areas were made at an EU level. Arrangements put in place following EU exit, such as common frameworks and the UK Internal Market Act 2020, mean many more decisions across policy areas are now made at an intergovernmental level. This means that post EU exit, parliamentary scrutiny involves understanding these arrangements and how they affect developments in devolved policy areas.

How to use the intergovernmental activity hub

The UK’s intergovernmental landscape is complex and can be difficult to navigate. Reasons for this include the large number of intergovernmental groups and places where information is published.

SPICe’s intergovernmental activity hub includes a dashboard, which supports parliamentary scrutiny by making information on intergovernmental activity easier to find and navigate. You can filter information on the dashboard by policy area, meaning you do not have to know which groups are significant in a policy area or where minutes are published to find the relevant information. The dashboard also provides links to the minutes of interministerial meetings themselves – should you want more detail. In addition to information about intergovernmental meetings, the dashboard also shows which common frameworks operate in the selected policy area.

SPICe will be publishing quarterly updates on intergovernmental activity, starting in October 2023. These updates will provide a snapshot  of intergovernmental activity that has taken place over the previous quarter and an overview of topics discussed. The updates will also outline key areas where it is anticipated intergovernmental work will take place over the following quarter.

Annie Bosse, SPICe Research