Memorandum by Dr A J Biscoe (RG 22)
The governments current impasse in creating
a regional tier of government in England has resulted from incoherent
regions, an unclear definition of what powers the regions would
have and the fact that the proposed regions lack political legitimacy.
Yet, the imperative of an English regional tier
of government remains compelling and important in terms of English,
UK and European politics.
A new approach to defining English regions needs
to recognise that regions do not need to be symetric, and that
a region may be defined in terms of its geographic, economic,
political and or cultural coherence. Not all parts of England
necessarily need to be part of a region.
Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly equates to
a coherent economic, political and cutural region which recent
petitions and opinion polls have strongly indicated that a referendum
on a regional tier of government would be winnable.
The template used for English regional governance
to date has been the one originally developed as a format by civil
servants in the early 1940s for managing food rationing. They
were developed for technical reasons and were never intended to
be democratically tested or to survive beyond the period of wartime
powers. Those who created them had no regard to economic or geographical
coherence. In the majority of cases the wartime regions, when
used during the 1960s as a basis for developing regional economic
policy and administrative decentralisation, demonstrated that
they were unworkable.
1. The nine regions tended to lack a focal
point having been formed around relatively equal groups of population.
This contributed to their perceived lack of political legitimacy.
In some cases, the North East for example, it has also underlain
the inability of institutions to become established or to develop
a sense of cohesiveness which bonds and motivates these regions.
For most people and communities in the regions it has been unclear
what the purpose of "their" regions is. They have found
it difficult to identify with them or to find assured and equitable
delivery and participation.
2. Lastly, it has been unrealistic to expect
that all regions would simultaneously be responsive to the stimulus
of taking over identical menus of powers and functions. To some
extent this was realised in the mechanism for triggering a referendum,
but that merely delayed the onset of a standardised set of institutions
and functions; it did not tailor institutions, or encourage them
to follow a more evolutionary path.
3. In summary, the combination of inappropriate
template and lack of political legitimacy has been used to explain
the reluctance of the electorate in the NE to vote in favour of
a regional tier of government.
A NEW APPROACH
4. If we are to develop responsive, efficient
and enduring regions which take up the reins of measured devolution
and contribute positively to both the civic life of the country
and to strengthening the national economy, then it is important
that the regions have a functional purpose, and that they can
command a degree of political legitimacy from their electorate.
5. A region needs to be politically legitimate.
There needs to be a clear, popular investment into the unit. People
need to be willing to accept necessary governance as being in
the common interest of the region even when they may, locally,
not benefit. This is a clear test of cohesion.
6. A strong part of gauging political legitimacy
is the expression of a distinctive economic identity. This might
derive from a distinctive set of activities, or even from a single
activity, or it may derive from a strong mix of activitiessome
mature, some evolving to take the place of others in decline.
The bonding factor will be the willingness of producers and practitioners
to be clearly identified in their market-places as deriving from
the region in questiona region must be a strong component
in branding economic outputs. It is as difficult to manufacture
a regional brand as it is to impose democratic legitimacy.
7. For regionalism to be successful it is
important to clearly state what powers and functions are to be
delegated, what the accountability mechanisms will be, and how
the situation will be reviewed and developed as time passes. International
experience shows that it is not necessary for all regions within
a state to be vested with identical powers, or with a standard
constitutional relationship to the centre (post-Franco Spain being
a case in point). Circumstances and democratic will should play
a role in determining the nature and form of delegation.
8. Neither is it necessary for all regions
to be based upon similar features. A region might be founded upon
one or more of the following features: a city, economic, administrative,
cultural, identity, infrastructure.
9. To achieve a successful devolution to
coherent regions which is founded upon a clear democratic accountability
we will need to acknowledge and develop a range of regionscity
regions, economically coherent regions, rural regions, peripheral
regions, small regions, big regions; cultural regions. It follows
that some regions will be more than one type of region, and that
there will be "regionless" parts of the country.
10. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly offer
an example of a ready made new region. Some of its facets include:
IT is a well defined region in administrative
terms, with a strong record of sustained high performance in public
service delivery and administration.
There is a mounting business case
for following such a course.
There have been a number of petitions
and opinion polls in recent years that demonstrate strong popular
support which complements the political support for developing
as a modern, peripheral region.
Strong cross-party political support
= all MPs, County Council and district councils.
Objective 1 funds has helped to create
a sense of cohesiveness and common purpose.
11. Taking into account recent expressions
and measurements of opinion it is clear that a referendum in Cornwall
and the Isles of Scilly would be winnable.
12. It would offer the government the opportunity
to achieve an early, innovative and well-defined region which
could blaze the trail for others. The more qualitative the devolution
of powers and functions, the more incisive the reforms of institutions
and working practises, the better the model it will provide.
13. As a peripheral region which is showing
very strong indications of responding positively to developing
as an economic region, as the result of the Government's sustained
support for the ongoing Structural Funds programme and other public
interventions, the establishment of Cornwall and the Isles of
Scilly as a region would make excellent functional sense.