Memorandum by Local Government Association
(LGA) (RG 36)
1. The Local Government Association (LGA)
promotes the interests of English and Welsh local authoritiesa
total of just under 500 authorities. These represent over 50 million
people and spend around £74 billion a year on local services.
2. We believe that a bold and ambitious
devolution of power from central government to local councils
will improve the lives of local people and their communities.
The government has proposed a "deal for devolution"power
released from the centre in exchange for stronger local accountabilitywe
are working to make this change a reality.
The LGA's six questions
3. Set out below are six questions that
we believe should be asked of any government proposals that emerge
as a result of the current debate about city regions. They are
not meant to be empirically based or comprehensive, but to act
as a benchmark to ensure that the concerns outlined in this paper
have been addressed.
1. Do the proposals represent the devolution
of powers from the national or regional level?
2. Are the appropriate powers being
devolved to improve the competitiveness of the sub-region?
3. Would the proposals benefit all areas
of the sub-region affected and involve all the authorities affected
in the decision making process?
4. Do they allow existing partnerships
to be built on or allow partnerships to be built from the bottom
up to reflect local circumstances?
5. Would they weaken democratic accountability
in the sub-region?
6. Would the proposals contribute to
the sustainable development of the region?
4. There is little doubt that current regional
arrangements in the public sector are typified by confusion and
uncertainty. This confusion was brought into stark relief by the
government's decision in 2004 to suspend its planned referendums
in the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside on directly elected
regional assemblies and the unexpectedly heavy defeat for a proposal
in the North East in October 2004.
5. Since the failure of the vote for a directly-elected
regional assembly in the North East a vacuum has emerged over
possible future directions for regional policy in England. While
the government has a "blueprint" in chapter 2 of the
2002 White Paper "Your Region, Your Choice", the situation
remains in flux. Government Regional Offices are currently under
review and doubts continue over the capacity of voluntary Regional
Assemblies to carry out their roles such as scrutiny of the Regional
Development Agency (RDA) and strategy formulation as effectively
as possible. The impact of the rapidly emerging City Regions debate
on existing regional bodies such as Regional Development Agencies
is as yet unknown.
6. The LGA believes that the current situation,
which involves a plethora of regional Non-Departmental Public
Bodies (NDPBs) and quangos which are unaccountable to the region,
is unsustainable in the long-term. The only element of indirect
regional accountability is offered by the Regional Assemblies
which themselves lack the capacity and resources to make full
use of their role in strategy-making and scrutinising regional
7. In 2003 the LGA commissioned the University
of Birmingham to undertake research on the government's Chapter
The report concluded that in terms of scrutiny, there is a need
to strengthen the accountability of quangos, policies and programmes
in the regions. Realisation that local authorities acting individually
have little prospect of effective scrutiny of the regional quango
state suggests that greater emphasis should be placed on working
effectively through the regional assemblies. The LGA is awaiting
the results of the current Audit Commission study on the effectiveness
of regional assemblies with interest.
8. Chapter two of the "Your Region,
Your Choice" white paper confirmed the role of the regional
assemblies in scrutinising RDAs but offered no additional powers
to deliver this. The LGA considers that this is one area where
regional assemblies could play a more significant role that they
have in the past. At present, the scrutiny of regional quangos
is largely through government Ministers to Parliament. In future,
the regional assemblies could take on this role and could also
have a role in scrutinising regional public bodies other than
the RDAs. Therefore, in terms of strengthening regional accountability
and increasing devolution the LGA considers that the capacity
of Regional Assemblies should be enhanced to allow them to play
a much stronger role in scrutinising the whole range of regional
quangos and NDPBs and in formulating an overarching "sustainability
strategy" that could serve to integrate the activities of
the various public bodies at regional level.
The potential for devolution of powers from the
regional to the local level
9. It is vital that no shift upwards of
powers or responsibilities which are currently managed at the
local level occurs. The LGA strongly believes that power needs
to be exercised at a level as close as is possible to those affected.
Regional organisations must recognise the abilities and experience
of local government and must be prepared to trust local level
arrangements when these are most appropriate.
10. The LGA continues to work enthusiastically
with the government on the development and roll out of Local Area
Agreements as a potential way of devolving greater control of
funding streams to local authorities and their partners. The principle
of devolution must also apply to the way regional bodies work
with local authorities. Local authorities have much to offer regional
bodies in terms of delivery experience, capacity and innovation,
flexibility and ability to manage change. Local authorities have
the ability to represent local community concerns and opinions,
are democratically accountable and are therefore in a legitimate
position to make decisions on behalf of those they represent.
Linked to this is the ability to draw existing local communities
and sub-regional networks into regional agendas.
11. The LGA has welcomed the decision by
some regional bodies, including several RDAs, to devolve decision-making
on a proportion of their funding to the sub-regional level and
considers that there is potential for such devolution to be replicated
across England eg through expansion of the concept of `joint investment
frameworks' whereby a number of regional and sub-regional public
agencies align or pool their funding streams.
The potential for new arrangements, particularly
the establishment of city regions and the impact which new regional
and sub-regional arrangements, such as city regions, might have
upon peripheral towns and cities.
12. In our manifesto the next four years:
the future is local we identified "a thriving and sustainable
local economy" as an aspiration for every council. We want
to see all local communities benefiting from policies to improve
their local economy. This applies as much to smaller towns and
cities and rural hinterlands as to the big regional cities. While
the LGA welcomes the thrust of the current debate surrounding
devolution of powers and freedoms to cities, it is crucial that
any proposals should benefit communities in all areas.
13. There is a current debate about the
concept of the "city region" that emphasises the importance
of policy-making and planning at a level that recognises the economic
realities of where people live, learn, work and shop. The theory
is that policies to promote growth, enterprise and employment
need to be made at a level that makes sense in economic terms,
which reflects the reality of the way markets work. So travel
to work areas, retail catchment areas and the way that supply
chains work are more important than administrative boundaries.
14. However, reflecting the reality of people's
lives means that the boundaries of city regions are fuzzy and
cannot be fixed with any certainty. For example, some people may
be in different city regions for different purposesshopping
at a local centre, commuting long distances to work and going
to a different town for cultural and entertainment purposes. And
some places may fall in more than one city regionfor example
Barnsley is involved in partnerships in both the Leeds and Sheffield
15. And many, perhaps the majority, of places
do not fit neatly into the classic concept of a city region with
a large core city at its heart. Some sub-regions have no identifiable
core city, but rather a cluster or network of smaller towns and
cities. Some areas, for example the counties surrounding London,
do not contain towns with more than 125,000 inhabitants within
one council boundary (the government's definition of a "principal
urban area"), but have their own local economy. And in very
rural and peripheral areas the city region concept may have little
resonance, but these areas also have local economies that make
an important contribution to the national and regional economy
and would benefit from policies that better reflect the realities
of local markets.
16. There is also a worry that even in the
areas with a readily identifiable city region the promotion of
city regions will concentrate attention on the urban core and
neglect the needs and aspirations of the wider region, including
smaller towns and cities and suburban and rural areas. These are
the places in which the majority of people live. It is vital that
any discussion about city regions does not just become a discussion
about devolving powers to the councils in our biggest cities but
addresses the economic needs of all our communities.
17. Finally, the concept of city regions
is often framed in exclusively economic terms, concentrating on
a city's "economic footprint". But towns and cities
are not one-dimensional, mechanistic economic drivers but places
where people live their lives along with their families, friends
and colleagues. Any policy seeking to promote the vitality of
our urban areas must also take into account their social and environmental
footprints. Promoting social and cultural vitality and environmental
sustainability are vital in creating successful towns and cities.
Spreading the benefits of town and city centre
18. To make sure that all communities benefit
from urban renewal the LGA commissioned an enquiry jointly with
the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities (SIGOMA) on
"Spreading the benefits of town and city centre renewal".
The research looks at how the benefits of urban renewal of the
big cities could be spread to benefit all urban areas, including
suburbs, "second tier" towns and the wider region.
19. It finds that investing all our efforts
in the centres of the biggest cities and relying on a "trickle
down" of benefits to other areas will not workit risks
creating a "winner takes all" approach. What is needed
is a proactive approach at the local, regional and national level
to make sure that all areas benefit from urban renewal and that
all urban centres participate in the urban renaissance.
20. A summary of the findings our research is
attached to this evidence, but the most important conclusions
in terms of the current debate are that:
We should not see our town and cities
as a hierarchy, with the biggest cities at the top of the pyramid,
but rather as a network of interconnected urban centres, each
with a distinctive economic role to play and contribution to make.
The keys to thriving urban centres
are liveability, connectivity and productivity. The most successful
towns and cities have already demonstrated the importance of vibrant
centres and they now need more powers and resources to improve
connectivity and productivity. All urban centres would benefit
from this approach.
The key to success is local leadership
and strong partnerships between authorities and their social and
economic partners at the local and sub-regional level. These partnerships
have evolved to meet specific needs and reflect local circumstances.
There is no appetite for top-down prescription or administrative
Access to adequate resources is vital
and competitive bidding and time limited funding undermines long-term
partnership working. Local councils and their partners need to
be given incentives to promote their urban centres and this will
include benefiting from the increased property values associated
with successful economic development and regeneration.
The LGA view
21. The LGA believes that all local communities
would benefit from a greater devolution of powers over economic
development to the appropriate level. This devolution has to be
to accountable local councils and not unaccountable quangos. Decisions
about the appropriate level should be left to councils and their
partners, who are in the best position to know what is required.
There should be no central prescription as to the kind of partnerships
that councils establish.
22. We recognise the value of the "city
regions" concept but fear that it is quite an exclusive and
does not reflect the reality of the many areas in England that
do not have a readily identifiable "core" city. It would
be more appropriate to talk about the devolution of powers to
sub-regions, which would include city regions, but could also
include areas that have different patterns of urban development.
23. We believe that ultimately all local
councils should have a greater say in decisions made about policies
to promote a thriving and sustainable local economy in their areas.
But we recognise that some areas are more advanced in their thinking
on this and there might be value in piloting a new approach in
a limited number of areas. However, it will be important that
any pilot takes account of the needs and aspirations of all areas
of a sub-region and not just the core urban area. It should also
be open to areas that do not conform to the standard "city
region" model to participate in any pilot project.
43 The Changing Regional Agenda: Chapter Two, Regional
Assemblies and English Regional Governance, Jeffrey, C and Reilly,
A (2003) Back