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



  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 all—to a greater or lesser extent—have a statutory role in regional governance:

    —  Government Office North West (GONW).

    —  The North West Regional Development Agency (NWDA).

    —  The North West Regional assembly (NWRA).

  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 regional focus.

  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 regional cohesiveness.

    (d)  The North West currently has—or 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 Plans.

    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 issues—housing, economic development and transport—highlighted 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 consultation document;

    —  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 as well.

Lord Peter Smith

Leader, AGMA

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