I sense that devolution is entering a distinctly different and more vigorous phase of its development. The reasons aren’t the same in every nation but there’s a growing feeling of muscles being flexed.

I sense that devolution is entering a distinctly different and more vigorous phase of its development. The reasons aren’t the same in every nation but there’s a growing feeling of muscles being flexed.

During much of devolution’s first decade, the ability of Northern Ireland to implement a Belfast-based view of the world was curtailed by periods of direct rule from Westminster.

Now, with the Executive more firmly in place, we’re seeing clearer policy divisions with the rest of the UK while Sinn Féin, growing in importance, may be more interested in matching policy with the Republic than the mainland.

The Welsh Assembly is maturing. The March referendum backed it being given greater law-making powers. After the May election, Wales will probably have a left-leaning government of some composition. Certainly noticeably different from Westminster.

Scottish governments, of course, have had greater powers from the beginning and have not been shy of using them.

The coalition’s austerity measures are also contributing to this feeling of growing separateness. The fact that the public sector makes up a bigger proportion of their economies leaves the devolved nations feeling cutbacks are more of a threat.

With limited resources of their own these UK govenments turn to retail burdens like business rates, especially if they feel they’re protecting ‘indigenous’ retailers by punishing UK-wide ones.

Devolution can provide opportunities for worthwhile ideas to emerge, but, as each of the assemblies asserts itself, it can feel like squeezing a balloon. You squash down a damaging plan in one place only to see it pop up somewhere else.

No sooner have we fought off the Large Retailer Levy in Scotland than we’re facing the same proposal in Northern Ireland where they’re also pursuing alcohol minimum pricing - previously dropped (though may yet resurface) in Scotland.

Wales is pressing on with bag charging as if the enquiry in Scotland had never happened. And now Northern Ireland is coming up with its own, possibly different, scheme.

The danger is ever-more disparate regulatory regimes adding compliance costs for UK- wide retailers.

To counter that, the BRC is beefing up engagement on the ground and working hard to persuade Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London to avoid seeking difference for its own sake and to be more consistent unless there’s a clear reason not to be.

Retailers know that responding to local wants and needs matters but equally those politicians need to recognise that savings are delivered to customers by driving UK-wide economies of scale.

As one boss of a big multiple said to me recently: “Yes, there are things that can be better decided at store level and local managers do have an amount of authority, but we have only one carrot buyer for the whole UK.”

Stephen Robertson director-general, British Retail Consortium