DEVOLVING DECISION MAKING: A CONSULTATION
ON REGIONAL FUNDING ALLOCATIONS
I am writing in response to the Government's
consultation document, issued in December 2004. This response
is submitted on behalf of the Association of Greater Manchester
Authorities (AGMA), which is formed of the 10 local authorities
within Greater Manchester.
AGMA welcomes the opportunity to respond to
the Government's consultation on devolved decision-making. However
rather than focus on some of the specifics within the Government's
consultation; the main theme of our response is focused on the
process of how such devolved decisions may be taken.
In making this response AGMA accepts the principle
behind the Government's proposals, that there should be a devolved
approach to public service delivery, so that public services are
responsive to varying needs and circumstances across the country.
AGMA also assumes that the Government's proposals do not envisage
any change from existing regional boundaries. However AGMA would
argue that a position of unchanged regional boundaries is untenable
for the following reasons:
it is apparent from current regional
structures that existing boundaries do not always equate to economic
realities on the ground. In the North West region; as currently
defined, the most striking examples are the inclusion of parts
of Cumbria in the N West as opposed to NE England and the exclusion
of High Peak from the North West; and
there are issues around the current
definition of city regions in developments such as the Northern
Way and the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), which do not relate
to any existing administrative arrangements.
The key issue for AGMA, which the Association
would like to see reviewed as an outcome of this consultation,
are current arrangements for regional governance in NW England.
AGMA would argue that, in the light of the referendum result in
NE England on elected regional assemblies, the present position
is over complicated and cumbersome. It also takes little account
of the realities of governance in the region or its economic operation.
Currently within the North West of England there
exist three regional bodies which allto a greater or lesser
extenthave a statutory role in regional governance:
Government Office North West (GONW).
The North West Regional Development
The North West Regional assembly
Alongside these three "prime" bodies
are a number of other organisations which have a regional remit.
In some cases they are linked to one of the above three prime
bodies in terms of accountability. However, in AGMA's view the
routes of accountability regionally for these bodies are not always
clear. These bodies include The Regional Housing Board and the
North West Cultural Consortium. There are also bodies such as
Sport England which, whilst organised nationally, also have a
AGMA considers that there are four main flaws
with the current system:
(a) There is not enough clarity in the roles
of the three "prime" regional bodies (GONW, NWDA and
NWRA) or accountability for other bodies with a regional remit,
such as those cited above. Current structures need to be simplified.
(b) In particular, the NWRA, as the representational
body for stakeholders in the North West, has an over-elaborate
governance structure. With a Management Board, Policy Committee,
four key priority groups and quarterly full Assembly meetings,
it is far too unwieldy to respond promptly and effectively to
the challenge the Government has set out in this consultation.
(c) No account is taken of the growing development
of sub regional partnerships, of which AGMA/the Greater Manchester
Forum is one example. These reflect organisational and economic
realities on the ground far more appropriately than what at times
can be a rather artificial construct of a regional economy and
(d) The North West currently hasor
will soon be having:
A Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS).
A Regional Economic Strategy.
A Regional Housing Strategy.
A Regional Transport Strategy.
A Regional Waste Strategy.
A Regional Equality and Diversity Strategy.
Three Northern Way City Region Development
AGMA would contend that the above list is symptomatic
of the lack of coherence between the main regional bodies. It
is notable that none of the above provide any unified strategic
vision for the North West.
AGMA would therefore propose that existing sub
regional arrangements be used as a basis for developing a new
process which would underpin regional decision making on the three
policy issueshousing, economic development and transporthighlighted
in the Government's consultation. If there is to be a "single
regional pot" for these issues then a single simple structure
to reach priority decisions is imperative. AGMA would argue that,
with the development of sub regional partnerships, established
independently within Greater Manchester and which are also being
fostered by NWDA, there is a logical structure developing which
is more linked to how the region's economy actually works than
current arrangements do.
The way in which such a process could work would
be as follows:
a high level group, consisting of
a few representatives from each sub region should be convened
to reach decisions on the type of issues set out in the Government's
depending on how each sub region's
representatives are chosen this group might need to be expanded
to include a small number of private sector representatives; effectively
a Regional Board;
existing sub regional arrangements
would enable such representatives to be accountable to local partners
at a sub regional level; and
this group would replace the current
disparate arrangements for controlling key decisions on such issues
as housing, planning and transport. It would need to be supported
by officers from GONW and the Sub-Regions.
Finally, whether or not these changes can be
made AGMA would wish to see a fundamental review of the NWRA and
its current structures and governance arrangements. Whilst it
is recognised that NWRA appreciates the need for change following
the N.E. referendum result; AGMA is of the firm opinion that any
such review must not be conducted entirely internally within NWRA
but needs to formally involve its members and sub regional partnerships
Lord Peter Smith