Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 260 - 279)



  260. Do you know of any other country in the European union which has a similar fragmented form of devolution?
  (Mr Raynsford) The Spanish example is one where there are very wide variations in the degree of devolved autonomy given to the different autonomous regions with Catalonia and the Basque region enjoying far more extensive devolved powers than . . . I think it is true to say that the devolution experience in Spain has been very successful in relation to Catalonia and has helped to resolve the very longstanding—

Mrs Dunwoody

  261. When were you last in Catalonia, Minister?
  (Mr Raynsford) About six months ago and I have been a frequent visitor, I am very familiar with the region.

  262. Lots of us are and I can assure you that there are some problems in Catalonia that we would not want to see reproduced within the regional structure of this country.
  (Mr Raynsford) I think it is fair to say that there were substantially more serious problems during the Franco era when the aspiration of the Catalan people for a degree of autonomy was suppressed.

  263. Most people would regard a fascist government as being different from a democratic government.
  (Mr Raynsford) I think it is one of the great triumphs of the democratic government in Spain that it has given a measure of devolved autonomy to regions.

Mr Betts

  264. Can we move on to another issue with regard to the powers of regional assemblies because one of the concerns always is that when the powers have been recommended by central government, central government find lots of reasons why it should hang onto its powers and lots of reasons to pull in powers that they need from local government.
  (Mr Raynsford) These are some of the very difficult and big issues that we are considering in preparing the White Paper. The basic framework and principle is that regional assemblies should involve the devolution of powers from central government and from bodies that currently exercise responsibilities in the regions and may be answerable to ministers but are not otherwise accountable, so creating a framework for accountability within the regions with the devolution of powers from on top, not drawing up powers from local government. However, inevitably there is going to be an interface between local government and the regional assemblies and getting that right so that it does not inhibit local government powers and local government initiative but ensures a coherent relationship between local government and the regions is one of the very important issues that we are considering.

  265. So they are primarily going to take over the as currently administered regional—?
  (Mr Raynsford) That, in our view, will be one of the core elements for regional assembly.

  266. So regional offices of government will go where there is regional assembly?
  (Mr Raynsford) The experience in London is that there is a continued need for a government office but much scaled down compared with previously because certain functions still require a government response and that is one of the issues that obviously has to be covered by the White Paper.

  267. Where regions choose not to go for an elected assembly, do we have assurances that decisions like planning decisions are only going to be made by elected bodies?
  (Mr Raynsford) That again is one of the issues to be covered in the White Paper and Lord Falconer obviously will be saying more on the issue of planning when he publishes his planning Green Paper in the reasonably near future.

Mrs Ellman

  268. Does your department make any assessment of regional disparities in public spending and see whether they are justified?
  (Mr Raynsford) We obviously take broad account of the patterns of expenditure, particularly those which relate to our own department's activities in each of the regions. We will be announcing later on today the local government settlement for next year which obviously will be a very significant component in that because that will govern the total spending of local authorities in each region of the country but, as I said earlier in response to your earlier question, there is a collective government interest in this and I expect my colleagues in other government departments who have a direct interest in the relevant issue to be as much involved in this as I am.

  269. Does anyone look at the overall impact of regional disparities in spending?
  (Mr Raynsford) The overall patterns of spending are indeed kept under review and that is one of the concerns which both the Deputy Prime Minister and my Secretary of State have very much in their minds.

  270. Who keeps them under review?
  (Mr Raynsford) As I mentioned, this is a collective government responsibility because there are different lead government departments in relation to different activities. It is our role to set an overall framework for regional governance, it is the Deputy Prime Minister's role to oversee that work and also the ongoing work of the government offices in the region for which he is responsible. That is the current framework and that is how we try to monitor current arrangements and bring forward proposals that will create a better framework in the future for regional governance.

  271. Who makes an assessment of overall patterns of spending in relation to regions?
  (Mr Raynsford) Ultimately, the Chancellor is the final arbiter.

  272. So it is the Chancellor now and not the Deputy Prime Minister?
  (Mr Raynsford) No, I have mentioned that this is a matter for collective government responsibility and, if it is a question of overall decisions on financial matters, it will be quite rightly the Chancellor's preserve.

Sir Paul Beresford

  273. Does the same group assess regional quality of output of services? What I am really getting at is that I presume you would agree with me that it is a mistake to judge the quality of service by the amount of taxpayers' money spent on it.
  (Mr Raynsford) We judge the quality of service by performance indicators and it has been one of our main concerns to ensure that there is a proper framework for performance management and we will be saying more about that and how we can improve the measurement of performance and indeed improve the standards of performance in local government in our local government White Paper. While that is a separate matter from input of government finance, there is no question that resources are crucial to the delivery of services. Without adequate resources, it is not possible to deliver certain services.

Mrs Ellman

  274. Is it fair that the north-west has 25 per cent less in education spent on it then Scotland?
  (Mr Raynsford) The variations between regions are obviously significant and they can reflect a number of different factors.

  275. Is that fair?
  (Mr Raynsford) I leave that to others to judge.

  276. Do you consider it is part of your responsibility—?
  (Mr Raynsford) Scotland is not part of my responsibility.

  277. Do you consider regional disparities in spending to be a matter of concern for you?
  (Mr Raynsford) Disparities in the English regions are a matter of concern to me and I look at them both in relation to the local government settlement that I have been working on a great deal in recent weeks and also in relation to our approach towards regional governance that I have been outlining, but I have no responsibility for Scotland and Wales.

  278. Do you have any proposals to scrap the Barnett formula?
  (Mr Raynsford) As I say, I have no responsibility for those wider issues which clearly engage both Scotland and Wales.

  279. If you have a responsibility for the regions, do you not feel you should have a view?
  (Mr Raynsford) I am primarily concerned with creating an appropriate framework to allow the English regions to operate within a framework that they have the opportunity to determine through a referendum and that allows the scope for each region to develop as effectively as it can to enhance its economy and therefore reduce disparities that currently exist. That I see as a very important responsibility but that does not extend beyond England in the case of my job.

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