Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Mr Peter Martin-Kaye (RG 01)

  The ODPM experiment with regional assemblies has failed.

  1999 to 2004 attendance of the South West Regional Assembly and its committee meetings show that about 20 persons have dominated the proceedings throughout those years. The full Assembly only convenes on three days per year with little pretence at debate. The meetings at the ODPM of the Assembly liaison body—the English Regions Network (ERN)—reveal that many of the representatives on these key occasions are in fact officials of the Assemblies. As found by the Aulakh, Snape, Mawson study (2005) for the ERN assemblymen recognise that the places are run by small cadres of people. Virtually all decisions are taken in or, even commonly, outside the committees.

  The populace feels no connection with the Assemblies, and Assemblymen none with the populace. These institutions have regrettably served to increase the general disrepute in which politics, politicians and public servants are held.

  Whilst there are rather few genuinely regional issues, there are some, as for example fisheries in the SW, although oddly this has not attracted the SWRA's attention although global warming has. But there is no question that the regions should have good representation. One of the main problems with the ODPM solution is that it undermines parliament and perhaps is intended to do so. We cannot afford for parliament to be weakened in any way. This is the place that encapsulates our national status and aspirations and must be of stature and working capability that attracts the best people to it.

  A system is required that not only improves regional representation but, contrary to the present arrangement, strengthens parliament. It badly needs it.

  This is readily achieved by giving sitting MPs regional responsibility as well as constituency duties. This would not add an extra layer of governance. It would retain our long heritage of county structure. Nor would it be expensive. We already elect MPs and pay them. Regional issues bear on their constituents so they have to know about them. Yet if MPs are told that they have no role in them, they will neglect these issues which will thereupon receive less national attention than they will often need. MPs cannot claim overwork since they have already surrendered so many of their duties to Brussels. Without executive or legislative power the MP assemblies could nevertheless work over regional problems better to bring matured consensus to the House of Commons. With modest secretariat they could sit perhaps half a dozen times per year at various venues throughout the region, bringing much needed and improved opportunity for the public to see parliamentary process in action.

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