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

Memorandum by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) (RG 26)

  1.  The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) considered the issue of the ODPM's new inquiry on this issue at the most recent of our monthly Executive meetings, held on 16 December 2005. The AGMA Executive, which consists of the 10 Leaders of the local authorities of Greater Manchester, agreed that we should submit evidence to the Inquiry.

  2.  Our agreement to submit evidence is based on submissions that AGMA has previously made which are attached for your information. We are not sure how these relate to the caveat in your press release that

    "evidence should be original work, not previously published or circulated elsewhere".

  However on the basis that the Committee may—understandably—not be aware of them they are submitted to you as evidence which the Committee may wish to consider; together with the comments made in this letter.


  3.  The first submission (Appendix A) is that made to the Department for Transport (DfT) in March 2005 in response to a Government consultation on devolving decision-making. This primarily relates to the questions of regional governance which the ODPM Committee has raised. Within the North West we are now seeing the start of a more simplified structure, advocated in our submission. We now have a North West Regional Assembly (NWRA) Executive Board composed of representatives who attend on the basis of sub regional location and nomination rather than political party, plus there is Economic and Social Partner representation. That change has had some notable early successes, including the agreement across the North West in early January 2006 of a priority list of transport schemes within the region to submit to the Government as part of regional advice on the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

  4.  However the issue of local government organisation remains an issue for effective regional governance. Within AGMA we have no view as to the respective merits of maintaining County Councils as opposed to Districts; but we support the general argument behind the necessity of moving to one tier. As an illustration the new NWRA Executive Board consists of 21 members (three per sub region and six for other partners). One reason why this board could not be smaller is the fact that in some parts of the North West there are three different types of authority within a county area (counties, districts and unitaries). AGMA recognises that the size of Regional Assembly Boards is unlikely to be a significant factor in the Government deciding whether or not to reform current arrangements. However it can unnecessarily complicate and add to the bureaucratic arrangements required for inclusive regional decision-making.

  5.  This submission by AGMA to DfT also referred to the importance of sub regions and sub regional arrangements. This is an area where the Committee will not be surprised to learn that AGMA has strong views. We recognise the reality of Government administrative arrangements and have over a long period of time advocated the devolution of appropriate policy areas to be overseen at a regional level. However the regional dimension can create challenges in a region as large and diverse as North West England. The reality is that regions do not function as an economic whole; and that sub regions or city regions are a far more effective and realistic embodiment of the way in which economies work spatially.

  6.  The concerns AGMA has on this issue can be illustrated by a number of recent examples where "regional" issues have hampered delivery at sub regional level or appropriate account being taken of sub regional differences:

    —  In the Regional Economic Strategy submitted by the North West Development Agency (NWDA) to Government no account is taken of the fact that business sectors that are a key priority in G Manchester may not be the same as those that are a priority in (for example) West Cumbria. Regional strategy documents—and their preparation by Government Agencies—can be too crude a tool to successfully underpin strategies to deliver economic growth.

    —  RDAs appear to be moving away from a system of sub regional delivery of business support services. This appears to be because of concerns that these are not functioning properly in some locations. But rather than identifying those sub regions where intervention by Government Agencies are necessary because of poor performance, the instinctive reaction appears to be blanket reform at a regional level, increasing distance from the customer and ignoring successful sub regional delivery where this occurs.

    —  The role given to regional assemblies as planning bodies means that, in producing draft Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS), they have to confront a dilemma between openly acknowledging that certain spatial areas need to be priorities in terms of economic growth (because of either their potential for growth or levels of deprivation) and needing to get a consensus document agreed across a diverse region. In this respect AGMA has particular concerns with the draft RSS being produced by NWRA. Part of this problem will we hope, in time, be addressed by the recent changes we have supported in reorganising NWRA. But it does also indicate that the regional structures we currently have do not always appropriately reflect economic and spatial realities on the ground.

  7.  The problem inherent in at least two of the cases illustrated above is that, in AGMA's, view the Government does not provide clear enough guidance to regional bodies and agencies on how it views the significance of initiatives such as the Northern Way and the importance of city regions, when these agencies are faced with the task of preparing regional strategies. Consequently this lack of a clear steer means that strategies are produced which:

    —  tend towards a "lowest common denominator" compromise with a view to achieving regional consensus; and/or

    —  ignore significant differences in sub regional strengths and priorities in order to achieve an overall high-level regional picture.

  The result of this is that, particularly in a region as diverse as the North West, the position of city regions and their priorities can be considerably underplayed.

  8.  Consequently AGMA would advocate that far more attention needs to be paid to the priorities, performance and governance of city regions in particular and the resources they will need. They will be the key areas where economic wealth is generated and they are where the key centres of population are. This is reflected in the second submission generated recently from within Greater Manchester, which we also attach for the Committee's consideration.


  9.  The second document attached (Appendix B) originally resulted from discussions within AGMA Authorities, in part reflecting some of the concerns expressed in the previous paragraphs of this letter. It also reflects the growing debate across decision makers and recent research (much of it commissioned by parts of Government) into the importance and role of city regions for the UK economy.

  10.  In AGMA's view, advocating a particular position in terms of the importance of city regions remains consistent with our views on regional governance. Our proposals for how we consider the governance of Greater Manchester could be enhanced would remain within the overall context of a high level regional group, consisting of a few representatives from each sub region (and other partners) convened to reach decisions on regional priorities.

  11.  The document, after endorsement by AGMA Leaders, was also discussed and approved at the Greater Manchester Forum, the body set up by partners in Greater Manchester to function as the sub regional partnership (SRP) for the conurbation. In particular, the document deals with the opinions AGMA currently holds on the following aspects of the Committee's proposed direction of inquiry:

    —  the effectiveness of current arrangements for managing services at the various levels, and their inter-relationships; and

    —  the potential for new arrangements, particularly the establishment of city regions.

  12.  The document was also submitted to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (The Rt Hon David Miliband MP) when he visited Manchester on 3 October as part of a round of "City Summits" arranged by ODPM in the Autumn of 2005. In summary it makes the following points:

    —  city regions are increasingly acknowledged nationally as the driving force of economic achievement, and the key to the delivery of national competitiveness and inclusion strategies;

    —  advocating particular solutions within city regions can be done within the context of a regional dimension to policy and decision making;

    —  achieving growth and change across city regions requires co-ordination of policies across the public sector and agreement and buy in from the private sector. The need within city regions to understand the combined impact of services on competitiveness and sustainability of communities suggests that there is a strong case for Whitehall to have a different, or at least a more sophisticated, relationship with public services in city regions;

    —  there are a number of problems with existing governance arrangements for the full range of public functions on a sub-regional basis. Expressed simply there is no single or integrated focus for co-ordination and action which brings together the key interests within the city region which possesses the resources and power to make a difference; and

    —  the preferred model for Greater Manchester is to develop a federated approach. However, this needs to be the subject of independent analysis to illustrate how it can be successful and can be an effective alternative to the elected mayoral model.

  13.  Following discussion with the Secretary of State at the City Summit work is continuing on some of the aspects contained within the paper, in advance of a further meeting with Ministers. In particular the document recognises the need to demonstrate how AGMA's preferred federated model could work in practice. AGMA has now commissioned the Institute of Political Governance (IPEG) at the University of Manchester to carry out this work.


  14.  AGMA welcomes the decision taken by the Committee to review this area of governance. Given the increased recognition of the importance of city regions, the change in attitudes towards "regionalism" that the NE referendum needs to engender and the likelihood of a Local Government White Paper in 2006 it is an opportune time for these issues to be considered by MPs.

  15.  Consequently, AGMA would welcome the opportunity to share its views in discussion with the Committee. In view of our previous and current thinking and work on this issue, as evidenced by the documents submitted, we believe that it would be helpful for the Committee to hear evidence from a city region such as Greater Manchester where we have been aware of these issues for some time and are seeking ways in which to respond to them.

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