Memorandum by Nottinghamshire County Council
1. Nottinghamshire County Council would
like to present the following evidence to the Committee. The evidence
is contained under the headings outlined in the evidence brief,
which is shown in bold type. Attention is also drawn to Nottinghamshire
County Council's Cross Service and External Affairs Select Committee
study of Regional Government, which is attached as an appendix.
2. The County Council considers that there
are major limitations in the accountability of regional and sub-regional
decision making. An increasing amount of decision making is taking
place at the regional level without the necessary level of accountability.
Examples include the significant budgets being given to the development
agencies and Learning and Skills Councils. Regional Assemblies
have been given statutory powers over spatial planning and housing
and are providing regional advice to Government on regional funding
allocations. None of these bodies are directly accountable to
the electorate for their decisions.
3. These regional powers have in part come
down from Government but there are important elements which have
been drawn up from local government. In this process, political
accountability has been lost. Examples include college funding,
which has passed to the Learning and Skills Councils, and elements
of spatial planning which have passed to the Regional Assemblies.
4. The whole regional map of responsibilities
is extremely complex, in part because it has developed on an ad
hoc basis. This has been described by many as regionalism by stealth.
Government continues to pass additional responsibilities to the
regional level, for example in the NHS and fire service and potentially
the police. The ensuing complexity discourages engagement, accountability
and joined up decision making. Our own Select Committee Inquiry
into Regional Government (attached) highlighted this issue.
5. The view of Nottinghamshire County Council
is that the government should build on existing accountable structures
and arrangements, prime examples of which are Local Area Agreements
and innovative work carried out by County Councils. The attention
of the Committee is drawn to the advantages of building on the
expertise of County Councils which provide high quality accountable
decision making, economies of scale through their size and the
proven ability to link to and represent a diverse range of local
communities. County councils have also proved themselves able
to adapt to changing circumstances and the requirements of the
modern world. Three of the five county councils in the East Midlands,
including Nottinghamshire County Council, have just been assessed
as four star authorities by the Audit Commission.
6. County councils are democratically elected
bodies and it is through this that they derive both a mandate
and accountability for performing a sub-regional coordination
role. It is significant that county councils lead the Local Area
Agreement process and the Nottinghamshire Local Area Agreement
is proving highly effective. Counties are of a scale to have both
the capacity and capability to bring together the various agencies
necessary to produce an effective Local Area Agreement.
7. The sub-regional role is one which mediates
between community and regional levels. The scale of counties enables
them to be effective advocates for their communities at a sub-regional
level, whilst at the same time being local delivery agencies enabling
them to implement strategic decisions at a local level.
8. County councils have been proved through
the inspection process as having attained the highest levels of
performance in the delivery of public services. This has been
achieved in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere through clear and effective
leadership, both politically and managerially, whilst retaining
the ability to keep in touch with and respond to the needs of
local communities and neighbourhoods. County councils are of a
scale which makes them effective in operating at both the strategic
and local level.
9. Combined with high performance, it is
for this reason that Nottinghamshire County Council believes there
is a strong case for the devolution of new powers and duties to
county councils. Departments and regional agencies of central
government deliver too much directly and more could be devolved
to local government. This was highlighted by our own Select Committee
Inquiry into Regional Government (attached). Improvements could
be made in the delivery of key public sector services through
both cost effectiveness and high quality service delivery through
10. The development of the Nottinghamshire
Community Strategy and the recent endorsement by partners of this
as a blueprint within which the priorities of local people can
be addressed, is a further good example of the way in which Nottinghamshire
County Council, working with others, is able to be responsive
to local demands whilst demonstrating community leadership.
11. Nottinghamshire County Council considers
that cooperation between local authorities in Nottinghamshire
and elsewhere has enabled a great deal to be achieved in the management
of services and has resulted in the delivery of more efficient
and effective public services at a local level. A great many public
services are now delivered through different forms of joint-working,
including waste disposal, adult social care, services for children
with severe learning or mental difficulties, economic regeneration
and highway maintenance.
12. Nottinghamshire County Council is involved
in a wide variety of joint working both with other local authorities
and organisations at all levels from the neighbourhood and local
to the sub-regional and regional, including partnerships with
the private sector.
13. County councils prove highly efficient
at decision making and service delivery, as shown by Nottinghamshire
and two other counties in the East Midlands having recently been
awarded four star status by the Audit Commission.
14. Local government should be seen as the
building block for effective local and sub-regional working, and
attention should be given to how regional decision making can
be brought to a level that engages closely with communities yet
is capable of delivering services in a highly efficient way.
15. The Government is giving considerable
attention to the role which core cities play in the economic performance
of the national economy. Whilst these cities clearly do play a
major a role in building economic prosperity, the research undertaken
by Michael Parkinson also highlights those areas where the performance
of the English core cities fall well behind their European counterparts.
It is therefore important to understand the inter-relationship
which exists between these cities and their surrounding hinterlands.
In the case of Nottingham, the unitary city makes up at most half
of the population of the `city region', with the remainder being
under county government. It is therefore axiomatic that services
provided by the county council are key in ensuring the overall
well-being, effectiveness and quality of life of the city region.
It is essential to see the city region in its full context rather
than concentrating on areas falling within constrained administrative
16. This argues for a coordinated approach
to the treatment of city region issues. This would not be helped
by yet another reorganisation of local government which would
only divert attention from addressing city region issues in a
truly cohesive way. The Nottingham city region already shows many
benefits from joint working between local authorities and other
bodies. Local transport planning for the wider Nottingham area,
which involves a joint plan between Nottinghamshire County Council
and Nottingham City Council, has been praised for being amongst
the best in England. The Greater Nottingham Partnership brings
together local authorities, business and community based organisations.
The Local Area Agreement negotiations currently being led by both
County and City Councils, with especially close liaison over the
economic development and enterprise block, are likely to prove
highly successful in delivering improvements to services for local
17. The view of Nottinghamshire County Council
is that governance should build on these highly efficient and
effective arrangements. In this way it can address the prosperity
and well being of city regions and their hinterlands, including
market towns and associated rural areas, rather than contemplating
further fundamental changes to boundaries.
18. The County Council has real concerns
about towns and smaller cities that do not relate naturally to
a city region area and could end fall into the vacuum which might
open up between city region boundaries. We have a particular issue
over parts of central Nottinghamshire, which are between what
might be termed the Nottingham and Sheffield city regions. These
areas have also been subject to large scale loss of jobs over
the decline in the mining and textile and clothing industries
and are in need of major regeneration, which the County Council
has been working very successfully with others to provide. These
parts of central Nottinghamshire have considerable potential for
future prosperity based on a new vision developed by the County
Council, district councils and other bodies in the area. Any development
of city region governance must not divert attention and resources
from such areas.
19. There is also concern about towns that
are on the edge of defined city areas and where they might lose
out on investment being prioritised on the main city area. In
Nottinghamshire for example, it is conceivable that Worksop and
Retford in the north of the county could be marginalised if they
were to be drawn into a Sheffield city region.
20. The potential for inter-regional cooperation
is greater when there are common issues to be addressed and where
consequently a joint approach is likely to be successful. Where
there is limited common interest it will always be more difficult.
21. Our own Select Committee highlighted
concerns about areas on the edge of regions and how they can lose
out to decisions made in a neighbouring region. They argued that
regional boundaries can work against coordinated decision making
and gave a specific example in relation to the new Robin Hood/Doncaster
airport involving a non-statutory consultation.
22. Whilst inter-regional cooperation is
in principle beneficial, our experience of joint initiatives between
the East and West Midlands is that to be worthwhile they must
have a real purpose and lead to added value over the regions acting