Memorandum by Mr James Paton (RG 09)
I write to give evidence to the Committee on
the various points it is investigating.
My starting point is the scrutiny of the papers
and subsequent report, which were presented at a regional symposium
in Yorkshire and the Humber at the end of last year on regional
governance. These can be accessed on the internet at the following
You will note that the papers and report really
only describe current regional arrangements rather than make any
substantive headway about the future of regional governance or
regional government arrangements.
See pages 48-52 of the report for the beginnings
of a discussion on real issues.
A diagram from page 37 of the report shows only
some current regional relationships and governance. It does not
show a host of other regional partners or organisations/national
bodies with regional offices eg all the regional offices of the
DCMS, DEFRA , DfT non-departmental organisations eg the Arts Council,
Sport England, Cultural Consortiums, Environment Agency, Countryside
Agency, Highways Agency, Big Lottery Fund.
My substantive point here is that if you were
going to put in place sensible, workable regional governance or
government arrangements, you wouldn't start from here.
Exceptionally light touch scrutiny of the RDA,
by the Assembly, means the RDA does very much as it likes. Monitoring
by GO has not used existing regional scrutiny at all to form a
part of its monitoring evidence base. A classic case of two government
departments DTI and ODPM not joining up at a regional level.
Powers and decision-making clearly still lie
with central government both in policy priorities and spending
priorities. This is partly why Northern Way and city region agendas
will fail if governance arrangements are not changed, as the priorities
and decisions are not being made in the region and for the region.
The difficulties now surrounding any debate
about regional government have been wholly created by the Government
through their ill thought out and ill promoted ideas for regional
government. There was no collective cabinet responsibility for
this and at the time very little cabinet support for it, although
there was, and still is, a manifesto commitment to devolution
in the English regions. It was due to this that the people of
the North East rejected, not the idea of devolution, but the Government's
very limitedas compared to the Scottish Parliament, German
Lannder, French Department or Spanish regionalconcept of
devolution. The North East has a long tradition of supporting
devolution ever since, and indeed before, the first referendum
debate in Scotland in 1978.
Either the Government come back with extensive
and conclusive decision-making and financial control arrangements
for regions ie meaningful power that may encourage people to take
an interest or it forgets any concept of regional government for
a generation or two.
As to regional governance, there are clear and
significant improvements that Government can make to current regional
Applying the same logic to regional governance
that is being applied to renewal/reform of local government currently
to devolve and reconnect local government to neighbourhoods and
the citizen. Similarly the Government should bring forward proposals
on an enhanced strategic role to local government to take decisions
at regional level including enhanced and vigorous (meaningful)
scrutiny of the Regional Development Agency, Learning and Skills
Councils, Environment Agency to name but three.
Reflect on proposals for Local Strategic Partnerships
in relation to local government in the delivery of Local Area
Agreements and mirror these arrangements for local and national
Government in relation the regional strategic partnerships (Assemblies
or Chambers) delivering on the regional agenda.
Given the ongoing democratic deficit in relation
to regional level decision-making (in effect a quangocracy) in
terms of parliament (MPs) and local government, give more strategic
power to local authority leaders to act collaboratively on regional
issues. This may mean directly elected leaders for all local authorities.
In specific answer to the questions posed:
The potential for increasing the accountability
of decision-making at the regional and sub-regional level, and
the need to simplify existing arrangements
Give more strategic power to local authorities
(with obvious and significant reforms to local government ie less
councillors but salary them to make them professional decision-makers
to better exercise leadership and more powers) to scrutinise as
they have the internal and health service scrutiny expertise which
they can build on.
The potential for devolution of powers from regional
to local level
See above. Need distinction between what needs
local and what needs regional action. eg region includes waste,
flooding, climate change, transport infrastructure, major economic
decision-making. Note new planning laws has created a statutory
regional planning power, regional level activity, particularly
that not given over to regional partnerships (assemblies/chambers)
should be scrutinised by the localities/local councils.
The effectiveness of current arrangements for
managing services at the various levels, and their inter-relationships
Service management should be as close to the
client as possible, eg community and neighbourhood level. Local
authorities have proved in many cases that they are not responsive
to customer/client needs and not capable of running services eg
special measures for LEAs who have been incapable of administering
local education eg Leeds, Bradford, Hull. Reinvigoration of real
local democracy through existing and recreation of town and parish
(commune?) councils with spending/contracting and decision-making
The potential for new arrangements, particularly
the establishment of city regions
Depends on the region. They are all different.
Yorkshire and Humber with three key city regions needs a degree
of regional level co-ordination, agreement, compact between its
city regionsparticularly in the context on pan-regional
activity and decision-making ie Northern Way > the regional
partnerships Assembly's could be charged with facilitating and
The impact which new regional and sub-regional
arrangements, such as the city regions, might have upon peripheral
towns and cities
Needs development of strategic partnerships
where a city's hinterland and commuter towns have some power and
say. Regional body could be the arbiter/broker of such arrangements.
Should not be imposed from the centre.
Note the lack of economies of scale of district
councils and that of North and North Lincolnshire Council needs
to be tackled through single tier and merger respectively. Trade
off is more power to parish and town councils.
The desirability of closer inter-regional co-operation
(as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities
A £100 million will do absolutely nothing
to bridge the productivity gap. However strategically alignment
and prioritisation of the big funding on road and rail, housing,
skills and economic development combined might begin to make a
difference. Why has the number of years of Learning and Skills
Council funding and indeed RDA money not made "significant"
impact on productivity.