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




  1.  In July 2004 Nottinghamshire County Council's Cross Service and   External Affairs Select Committee agreed to develop an evidence-based scrutiny study of Regional Government; the scope of the project was to examine the work of the key East Midlands regional agencies, their current links with Nottinghamshire County Council and partners, including impact on partnership working, potential future developments, and including developments around Regional Government elsewhere in the country. An objective of the study was to gather evidence to inform opinion, should a referendum on an elected Regional Assembly be carried out in the East Midlands region.


  2.  The methodology for carrying out this study was to request and commission presentations to Cross Service and External Affairs Select Committee meetings by a number of representatives from key regional agencies. The presentations were then followed by discussion and questions from Members; on several occasions an invitation to attend the presentations was extended to all Members of the County Council in order to help facilitate the widest possible debate on the issues raised. A smaller Study Group of members also met separately to plan the direction of the study and to distil the main points arising from the evidence into conclusions and recommendations for the Committee's consideration. Study Group members also attended a Debate on the Future of Local Government, which followed the East Midlands Regional Local Government Association General meeting on 29 November 2004, and reported back the main issues to the full Select Committee.

  3.  The key messages arising from this study are shown as conclusions and the points recommended for further action, either for Council Cabinet or other agencies, are listed as recommendations.

  4.  The study's conclusions and recommendations were then sent to Nottinghamshire County Council's Cabinet on 27 April 2005. As the Cross Service and External Affairs Select Committee no longer exists, and corporate and strategic issues are now dealt with by the Corporate Strategy and External Affairs Select Committee, the Leader of the Council gave a response to each of the recommendations to this Select Committee on 4 January 2006. At its meeting on 9 November 2005 the County Council Cabinet had considered and accepted the Leader's response to the recommendations.

Conclusions from Nottinghamshire County Council's Cross Service and External Affairs Select Committee's study of Regional Government

  5.  The Select Committee considers that the issue of democratic accountability is currently lacking in Regional structures; there is a clear democratic deficit in the structures. Decision making on key issues should be clearly defined, transparent, democratically accountable, and located at the most appropriate level of Government. However Members do not recommend going down the route of having an elected Regional Assembly as a means of addressing this issue. Members also wish to continue to work with existing structures whilst they remain, as our prime duty is to Nottinghamshire residents.

  6.  Members also consider that the current structures are unwieldy, and that there is the potential for duplication and overlap between the work of different regional agencies. However Members do believe that these structures are capable of reform assuming we are to retain a regional dimension to our responsibilities as a Local Authority.

  7.  During this study Members have learnt that it is vitally important for the East Midlands Regional Local Government Association to reflect the views of local Councils. Therefore it is important to ensure proper arrangements for reporting back to the County Council the details of business conducted at the East Midlands Regional Local Government Association and the East Midlands Regional Assembly and ensuring that the County Council is fully included in influencing the work of these bodies.

  8.  Members have learnt about the current arrangements between the EMRLGA and Assembly; that the East Midlands Regional Local Government Association currently retains financial responsibility for Assembly staff as the Assembly does not have its own legal identity at the moment. Members believe that these arrangements are unsatisfactory, and are concerned that in the future the EMRA could become a financial liability to the EMRLGA or, through this body, to local Councils. The study has investigated arrangements between Regional Local Government Associations and Regional Assemblies in other parts of the country.

  9.  Members note the result of the referendum in the North East and that there are currently no plans for referendums elsewhere in the country. Members had been seriously concerned that an elected Regional Assembly of only 25-35 Members could not have adequately represented an entire region. However Members also note that the Government is committed to decentralising power and strengthening the regions. The Assemblies have a key influence on issues such as housing, planning, and transportation. For example, they review and develop RPG8 including the regional transport strategy and the regional spatial strategy. They have a scrutiny role, for example in areas of economic development, and skills and training. New developments are also proposed such as Regional Skills Partnerships and bringing Regional Housing Board activities under the Regional Assembly. Members are concerned about these proposed new /greater powers for Regional Assemblies, such as the proposals that Regional Housing Boards should be brought within the Regional Assemblies. Members would not wish to see any strengthening of existing Assemblies' powers.

  10.  Members have learnt that the current Assembly has two thirds local government membership. In light of the fact that the regional responsibilities undertaken by Assemblies are set to continue, Members consider that the key roles undertaken by the Assembly should be undertaken by the East Midlands Regional Local Government Association, which is totally made up of democratically accountable elected members from across the region. The key role of scrutinising the Regional Development Agencies should also be undertaken by elected Members. While other regional stakeholders on the current Assembly should be involved in discussions, voting members on these issues should be local government Members.

  11.  Members have learnt about the role of the current regional agencies and how they are intended to examine issues that the Government feels cannot be solved within the boundary of one authority. However Members consider that there should be a legal duty on local authorities to consult their neighbours on matters of clear mutual interest, including strategic planning issues. This should also include consulting neighbouring authorities who do not fall within the same "rigid" regional boundaries. To give an example; in a separate study carried out by this Select Committee's into the impact of Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield on Nottinghamshire, this would have involved statutory consultation by an Authority in the Yorkshire region with Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands Region.[44]

  12.  Members consider that the discussions at the East Midlands Regional Local Government Association debate on the Future of Local Government, which some Study Group Members attended on 29th November 2004 raised interesting points about the future of local government and the need for democratic accountability; for example that "Trust should be two-way. The current relationship with central government is excessively controlling. Regional structures too should be reviewed, to enhance local accountability".

Conclusions from Nottinghamshire County Council's Cross Service and External Affairs Select Committee's study of Regional Government

  The Select Committee made the following recommendations to Nottinghamshire County Council Cabinet from this study of Regional Government:
1.Members recommend that existing regional structures are reformed as there is a clear democratic deficit. However Members do not recommend that we go down the route of an elected Assembly as a method of addressing this issue.
Response of the Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council

  It is accepted that there is a democratic deficit in regional structures, which is a matter for concern. The position of the national Local Government Association has been that changes to regional structures should address the democratic deficit and that they should involve a devolution of power from Westminster rather than a "drawing up" of powers from local government.

  Following the referendum result in the North East, the Government has made clear that elected regional assemblies will not be taken forward in this Parliament and there can be no further referendum in the North East for at least 7 years from the date of the referendum in 2004. The Government has also emphasised that the decision whether to have elected regional government rests with the people in each region.


Members recommend that we do continue to work with existing structures while they remain, as we have a prime duty to the residents of Nottinghamshire. Members recommend that the County Council carries out a study of relationships between the County Council, and District, Town, and Parish Councils. Members also recommend that the County Council carries out a detailed examination of the mainland European dimension where we believe that there are examples of genuine decentralisation and devolution of decision making.
Response of the Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council

  The principle of engaging with regional structures where this benefits the County Council and the residents of Nottinghamshire is supported.

  The Corporate Strategy and External Affairs Select Committee is currently undertaking a study into relationships between the County Council and other councils in Nottinghamshire, so this particular recommendation is being taken forward.

  It is not felt that undertaking a study of the European dimension would be a good use of the County Council's resources. This might be the type of study that could be undertaken by Government or by other regional organisations. If the Select Committee is keen on exploring this issue further, then this could be a matter for further work by the Committee.

  The need to have effective reporting procedures of business conducted at the East Midlands Regional Assembly and East Midlands Regional Local Government Association is supported and it is proposed that this is explored further through the normal channels.
3.Members recommend that in the interests of democratic accountability the Regional Local Government Association and the current Assembly should be one body, and only that "Elected" members nominated by their respective Local Authorities should have votes in that Forum. Other stakeholders should be involved in discussions but should be non-voting.

Response of the Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council

  This recommendation also relates to Recommendation 1 about the democratic deficit at the regional level.

  The structure of the Assembly with stakeholders taking about 30% of the membership stems from Government advice and as a result all the regional assemblies are similar in this respect.

  With regard to the financial and legal relationship between EMRLGA and the Assembly, the latest position is understood to be that the option of the Assembly becoming a limited company in its own right has not proved possible and discussions are now taking place between the Chairs/ Chief Executives of the two organisations on the best way forward.
4.Members recommend that the relationship between Government Office East Midlands and the Regional Development Agency with this Forum should be further examined so that responsibilities and roles are clear and that there is no potential for duplication. The Select Committee has no difficulty in recommending working with other organisations which have a specific remit, but would also wish to ensure that their role is advisory rather than prescriptive when they deal with democratically accountable Local Authorities.

Response of the Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council

  There is support for the principle that duplication should be avoided and that the aim of regional organisations should be to add value to the work being carried out by local government and sub-regional partnerships rather than take on responsibilities better provided by local government and sub-regional partnerships.

  At the same time, it has to be accepted that the regional organisations quoted all have specific statutory and advisory roles to undertake laid down by Government.
5.Members note there are some occasions when it is legally required for local authorities to consult with neighbouring councils and other public bodies, on certain planning matters for example. Members further note that there are occasions when it would significantly contribute to good decision-making to consult with relevant neighbouring councils and other public bodies even though there is no legal duty to do so. It is therefore recommended that the County Council's Consultation Strategy should include a clear commitment that in any decision-making process, the decision maker should undertake, where relevant, consultation with neighbouring councils and other public bodies as part of best practice to ensure that informed high quality decisions are taken. The County Council's Cabinet would need to lobby the Local Government Association and Government if it wanted to campaign for additional statutory consultation legislation. Committee Members recommend that Cabinet carries out such lobbying for this necessary additional statutory consultation legislation.

Response of the Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council

  It is understood from the Select Committee's conclusions that this in part arises from a specific example involving Doncaster unitary authority and the development of the Robin Hood Airport.

  There is support for the principle that regional boundaries should not restrict consultation between neighbouring authorities. With regard to statutory consultations, such as involving planning applications, the presence of regional boundaries should not give rise to problems. However, the concern from the Select Committee seems to arise from non-statutory consultations and if this has been causing problems there would be support for taking the matter further with the appropriate authorities.

  The Council will be considering the adoption of a public engagement policy which will set out the principles for consultation with all stakeholders, including neighbouring councils and other public bodies.

44   One example of the need for cross- border co-operation was raised at the 26 January 2005 meeting of the Select Committee, and is provided as only one illustrative example. The Select Committee received a report on Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield; the Committee is studying the impact of this new airport on Nottinghamshire, as well as carrying out its study of Regional Government. The Committee learnt the following; at the planning stage for the airport it was anticipated that funding would be built in to the airport's business plan to support public transport. Indeed, at the public inquiry Nottinghamshire County Council identified the need for regular hourly bus services from both Retford and Worksop to be paid for by section 106 contributions from the developer (Peel). Unfortunately, although section 106 funding was made available for public transport by the developer as part of the planning approval, the determining authority Doncaster MBC allocated this exclusively to services within their area, and none to provide transport links to Nottinghamshire. This was not a decision over which Nottinghamshire County Council had any influence. Back

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