‘Intergovernmental activity’ refers to work between governments. It can include discussions on areas of mutual interest, policy development, and policy implementation. In the UK, intergovernmental activity relates to the UK Government and the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland working together.

In any system of multi-level government there is likely to be some inter-dependence and overlap of powers and responsibilities. In a country like Scotland, where some matters are the responsibility of the Scottish Government and others are the responsibility of the UK Government, intergovernmental work is important for effective governance.

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 policy areas were made at an EU level. The 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 now have an intergovernmental component.

To find out more about the new constitutional arrangements following the UK’s exit from the EU see a SPICe briefing. SPICe has also published a [hyperlink once published] blog which explains why an awareness of intergovernmental interactions has become an essential part of parliamentary scrutiny post EU exit.

How do governments work together?

Intergovernmental interactions can take place in formal structures often called ‘intergovernmental relations’ – more on these below – as well as more informally. SPICe uses the term ‘intergovernmental activity’ to include formal interactions as well as more informal ways of working together. In 2022, the UK Government and devolved governments agreed a new approach to intergovernmental relations.

The new structures established a number of groups that should facilitate regular meetings between the UK Government and devolved governments. A SPICe blog gives more information on the new arrangements.

In addition to the formal intergovernmental structures, governments work together in more informal settings, including through ‘common frameworks’. Common frameworks are intergovernmental agreements put in place to facilitate intergovernmental work in certain devolved areas formerly governed by EU law. Day to day, many of these informal intergovernmental interactions take place between civil servants of different governments. Find out more about the frameworks and how the Scottish Parliament is scrutinising them on our common frameworks page.