Memorandum by the Forum for the Future
Junior ministers across Departments should be
given an additional spatial responsibility for individual regions.
A reformed House of Lords should include elected
representatives from the regions to champion regional issues.
3. Simplification of arrangements
Make the delivery of sustainable development
the primary focus of the RDAs with the Regional Assemblies responsible
for their scrutiny. Review the effectiveness and remit of sub-regional
bodies in line with proposed changes to RDAs.
Each region should have one overall statutory
plan that includes a vision for the region and sustainable development
objectives. This would provide a clear direction and align key
delivery strategies such as the economic and spatial strategies.
Existing structures and organisations have made
good progress and need time to mature. Review how cities are governed
whilst maintaining existing regional structures.
6. National responsibilities
Clarify and improve the responsibilities for
regions within national departments.
7. PSA targets
Include strong PSA targets for Sustainable Development
for the Regional Development Agencies.
1. THE POTENTIAL
1.1 The "no" vote in the north
east devolution referendum means that a mandate for democratically
elected regions is unlikely for sometime.
1.2 Given this situation, one solution would
be to have a Minister with special responsibility for each region
to whom the regional institutions would report. This spatial responsibility
for a region could be combined with the existing portfolios of
a number of junior ministers across departments. This would make
the Minister accountable for decisions taken in the regions.
1.3 Another option might be to build in
regional democratic accountability into a reformed house of Lords
with representation from each region.
Simplification of existing arrangements
1.4 There is a need to simplify existing
arrangements. On the one hand, this is because of the confusion
that exists regarding the roles and responsibilities between the
different institutionsparticularly between the Government
Office (GO), Regional Development Agency (RDA) and the Regional
Assembly (RA). On the other hand, there is an overlap of responsibility
between different institutions with planning responsibilities
being shared between the RDA, RA and GO and some scrutiny of the
RDA being carried out by both the RA and GO.
1.5 One solution should be to broaden the
remit of the RDAs turning them into Regional Sustainable Development
Agencies (RSDAs)broadening their remit to economic, social
and environmental development, with a sustainable development
duty as the overall aim. The RA would remain to scrutinise the
RDA with the GO's functions divided appropriately between the
RDA and RA.
1.6 The responsibility to deliver regional
objectives on the ground would then be cascaded to local authorities
for planning and sub-regional bodies for economic objectiveswho
wield considerable influence over the actual outcomes as many
spend up to 50% of the RDAs budget. The ability of the latter
varies significantly, dependent on the skills and structures within
each body. A review of the effectiveness and remit of these organisations
should be undertaken in line with proposed changes to regional
1.7 Concordats are currently used to simplify
and clarify existing arrangements, and a short review investigating
their effectiveness would be worthwhile.
1.8 Locating the different agencies in the
same building (as is the case with SEEDA and SEERA) will undoubtedly
help in forging relationships and improving communication between
the different organisations.
2. THE POTENTIAL
2.1 Given the centralised nature of decision
making within the UK at present, this question is misplaced. It
would be more appropriate to ask about the further devolution
of powers from the national to the regional or local level rather
than from the regional to the local level. The regional level
has limited powers and the two main powers that they have, for
spatial planning and economic development, should remain at the
regional level, cascading down through the system as at present.
3. THE EFFECTIVENESS
3.1 There currently exist a wide range of
strategies at the regional level with two main statutory documents,
the Regional Economic Strategy (RES) and the Regional Spatial
Strategy (RSS). An improved arrangement at the regional level
could follow the Wales example of having one overall plan for
Wales which includes a vision for the region and sustainable development
objectives. The spatial and economic strategies sit under this
and all contribute towards the overall vision. There needs to
be a much stronger sense of how these fit together, along with
any other strategies that may be deemed necessary to deliver the
full range of sustainable development objectives.
3.2 At a minimum, the RSDF should become
the binding overarching framework for all organisations with targets
against which regional institutions are assessed and linked back
to the national sustainable development strategy.
4. THE POTENTIAL
4.1 Regional organisations are relatively
new. With any new structures, particularly at a new level of governance,
it takes time to establish and then effectively deliver what is
set out. The regional level provides an important strategic overview
that cannot be determined at the local level and the regional
level has made progress in its delivery of sustainable development.
A new arrangement could mean starting from scratch with another
long learning period. Quite simply, regional organisations need
more time to mature and capitalise on their learning and development
4.2 A solely city-region structure across
the UK would exclude parts of the UK eg Cumbria from the Northern
city-regions, Cornwall and Devon from a Bristol city region. It
would not work from an economic perspective to have a city region
such as Bristol and then for the remainder of the South West to
form a separate region. There is already discontent within the
North from areas that do not belong to city regions whilst certain
regions have no obvious city-region within them, as with the south
east and east of England, so it is unclear what would happen to
4.3 However, it is likely that cities would
benefit from one central authority as is the case in Birmingham
rather than four separate authorities that exist in the Greater
Bristol area. Yet this does not necessarily need to be a city-region,
it can be a larger local authority. Specific powers should be
further devolved to these cities from the national level.
4.4 The implications of city regions excluding
certain parts of the region and replacing existing regional structures
makes it a less attractive option than the current arrangements.
However there may be a case for reviewing how existing governance
structures of cities could be improved.
5. THE DESIRABILITY
5.1 Closer inter-regional co-operation is
desirable for a range of issues, not just to tackle economic disparities.
The Northern Way is a good example of co-operation but there is
much disquiet in the North about the lack of consultation and
the focus on economic issues to the exclusion of social and environmental
factors. Future inter-regional co-operation on producing strategies
should take this into account.
5.2 It should be noted that attempts to
launch similar initiatives in the Midlands and the South West
have not taken off. This could be for a variety of logistical
factors but shows that the impetus for inter-regional co-operation
has to come from what the regions want to make happen rather than
from any imposition on inter-regional co-operation.
Recognising regions within Whitehall
6.1 The responsibilities for regions within
Whitehall are divided between Defra, DTI and ODPM. In many cases
regional organisations are being pulled in several directions
from different departments with diverse messages.
6.2 This could be resolved by beefing up
the role of the Regional Co-ordination unit (RCU) and moving other
Whitehall regional heads there from Defra and DTI.
6.3 Another way of improving management
in the regions would be to introduce "regional proofing"
into all appropriate Whitehall policy.
6.4 The priorities set by Government through
the public service agreements (PSAs) do not go far enough. This
is the case for RDAs which have a PSA on sustainable development
but have no target attached. This makes this PSA less effective
than others against which the RDA is measured and its performance
assessed. It is impossible to provide an overall picture of regional
effectiveness given the inadequacy of the current target set.
Regions should be free to negotiate their own targets for example,
housing growth, job creation and energy production.
These views are based on Forum for the Future's
extensive experience of working directly with regional organisations
since their inception on a wide range of topics at all levels.
We have currently eight regional partners, composed of the RDAs,
RA and the Welsh Assembly Government.
Regional Futures is the learning network for
the English regions and part of the sustainable development charity
Forum for the Future. Its mission is to inspire good regional
policy and delivery through sustainable development.