Memorandum by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough
Council (RG 34)
1. Questions of governance need to be tackled
holistically rather than piecemeal. There should therefore be
a review of governance arrangements leading to a new constitutional
2. The review needs to:
be comprehensive, covering all levels
of government and all types of institutions;
take the time it needs.
3. The new settlement should conform to
subsidiarity, with decisions made
at the lowest appropriate level;
devolution of spending, subject to
a competence test;
form should follow function in deciding
the size and shape of institutions;
accountability and democratic legitimacy;
encouragement of partnership working
between institutions; and
quality services and efficiency.
1. Barnsley is a borough of some 218,000
people. It lies within the South Yorkshire sub-region of the Yorkshire
& Humber region in England.
2. Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
is the area's unitary local authority.
3. Barnsley takes as lively an interest
as anybody in questions of regional arrangements, not least because
of its location in both the Sheffield and Leeds City Regions.
Our starting pointa new constitutional
4. The issue of regional government cannot
be considered in isolation. Governance arrangements at one spatial
level are inextricably bound up with the governance arrangements
for the spatial levels above and below it.
5. The recent past has seen substantial
change in governance arrangements and related policy approaches
at various levels, including:
the creation of Regional Chambers;
the creation of Regional Development
limited devolution of spending to
the creation of Local Strategic Partnerships;
changes to local government powers
changes to Agencies and Non-departmental
the Northern Way Growth Strategy
(and parallels elsewhere); and
the development of city region theory
6. The near future promises further change.
Ten year vision for local government.
The "neighbourhoods" agenda.
A proposed White Paper on local government.
A proposed White Paper on cities
and city regions.
The forthcoming report by Sir Michael
Lyons into local government functions and funding.
7. All of these and more have impacted or
will impact on decision making at the regional level. Addressing
one or several of these without reference to the others can at
best produce partial solutions, and at worst it risks either shifting
problems from one place to another, or replacing one problem with
8. We therefore believe that what is needed
is a comprehensive review of governance, leading to a new constitutional
settlement. We further believe that that review and the new settlement
should conform to a number of fundamental principles. These are
set out in the next two sections.
Fundamental principles of the form of a review
9. The review should cover governance at
every level, from neighbourhoods to national. It should cover
all forms of public administration, including local and national
government bodies, non-departmental public bodies, quangos, qualgos
and voluntary associations such as Regional Chambers.
10. Any review must be conducted in an open
and honest way. Politicians and officials must be willing to consider
new arrangements, and must not seek to hold on to power for its
11. In practice this almost certainly means
that the review will have to be conducted in a way which assures
its independence. Although not recently fashionable, one possibility
might be a Royal Commissionthough other formats can also
easily be envisaged.
12. We acknowledge that such a wide ranging
review will take time. But we believe that it is better to be
right slowly than wrong quickly. Continuing to implement piecemeal
reforms from above risks deepening the widespread disengagement
of citizens from the political process.
Fundamental principles of a new constitutional
13. Government should always be conducted
as near to people as is possible. The starting assumption should
be that all decisions are made at the neighbourhood level, with
decision-making powers being devolved upwardsbut only where
this is more appropriate to the matters in hand.
14. Alongside this devolution in decision
making goes devolution in spending. Subject to proving their competence,
public bodies should enjoy substantial freedoms and flexibilities
to allow them to respond to local needs and wishes, and to deliver
services in innovative ways.
15. Form should follow function. Sensible
decisions on the size and shape of governance structures can only
be made when there is clarity about the roles and responsibilities
assigned to each level.
16. Bodies need to be accountable to the
people they serve, with a democratic mandate to make decisions
on their behalf. This does not always or necessarily require a
direct democratic mandatethere is certainly a role for
indirect accountabilitythough there should perhaps be a
presumption in favour of direct accountability. But in all cases
some form of legitimisation is required to retain people's trust
and engagement in the political process.
17. Flexibility must be built in to the
system. Whatever structures are put in place, there will always
be a need for more informal partnership working arrangements to
join them up for certain purposes. Bodies need to have both the
power and the duty to co-operate where it is appropriate.
18. Bodies must deliver quality services
efficiently, and they should be designed in the way most suitable
to do that. All the principles above will contribute to achieving
the dual ambitions of quality and cost-effectiveness.