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

Memorandum by Hull City Council (RG 46)


  Hull City Council welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this increasingly important debate. We recognise (and welcome) the Government's commitment to reducing regional disparities in prosperity and the Select Committees' recognition (in a previous report) that economic disparities are at the root of the many inequalities and social difficulties which are most intense in England's urban areas.[50] We also appreciate that the central economic objective of the Government is to "achieve high and stable levels of growth and employment", and that "to meet this challenge it is essential that every nation and region of the UK is able to perform to its full economic potential".[51] In doing so, regional policy will finally be addressing, as the Chancellor put it in his speech to the 2005 Sustainable Communities summit, "the underlying causes of poverty and deprivation".

  It is primarily within the context of improving the economic performance of Hull and its "functional urban area" that we situate the Select Committee's inquiry on whether or not there is a future for regional governance. At the same time, we are conscious that governance (or government) arrangements—at a variety of spatial levels—are a key part of ensuring improved economic performance. As a Local Authority, seemingly just one part of an increasing number of sub regional and regional partnerships, we are naturally concerned about the increasingly attenuated nature of democratic accountability, particularly at regional level.

  Naturally, all responses to the Committee's inquiry about the future for regional governance should start from the recognition that we are not discussing governance for the sake of governance. It is about how democratically accountable arrangements can be constructed which address the well being needs of given areas so that they can make the best possible case for investment and influence.


  1.1  There is widespread agreement that the multitude of partnerships and governance arrangements at sub regional and regional level are confusing and contribute to a lack of "ownership" and overall direction. Clearly, the Government's intention to "democratise" its decentralisation and devolution plans in order to bring about a better integration of regional strategies and decision making, were based (partially, at least) upon the presumption that elected Regional Assemblies would gradually evolve. Following the overwhelming vote against the proposition of elected regional assemblies at the North East referendum in November 2004, it is widely agreed that elected regional assemblies are no longer on anyone's agenda. However, one commentator has emphasised the relentless nature of regionalisation pointing out that "the promise of more autonomous elected assemblies as a future goal certainly underlay (regionalisation) developments, but it was not a significant driving force. These developments have been evident as much in the southern and midland regions of England, which were never expected to vote for elected assemblies in the near future. . .."[52]

  1.2  It is the case that the Government's "regionalisation" agenda has been proceeding since 1997. This process has seen:

    —  "The establishment of new regional institutions, such as Regional Development Agencies and Regional Chambers (Assemblies).

    —  The extension of the responsibilities of Government Offices for the Regions, and the consolidation of regional offices of executive agencies.

    —  The reform and widening of the scope of the regional planning process, symbolised by the transformation of Regional Planning Guidance into Regional Spatial Strategy.

    —  The emergence of dense networks of regional forums, commissions and networks based around discussion of high-level visions or strategic priorities for their region in a specific policy field.

    —  The emergence of an interest in regional policy in the Treasury, the predominant department in the making of domestic policy".[53]

  1.3  Thus, the "regionalisation" and decentralisation plans of the Government—which continue—"have resulted from ad hoc solutions to specific policy or departmental needs".[54]

  1.4  Thus, for example, Regional Funding Allocations, which seek the priorities of a region up to 2016 in the fields of housing, transport and economic development, are being developed by Yorkshire Forward (the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Development Agency), the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Housing Board and a newly created body—the Regional Transport Board. The decisions of these groups will by drawn together by a Regional Coordination Board (chaired by the Chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly). Similarly, the Northern Way initiative has necessitated the creation of a Northern Transport Compact (to prioritise pan-regional transport projects in the context of the Northern Way).

  1.5  It is perhaps the case that sub regional arrangements for partnership working need to be revisited, given that the majority of sub regional partnerships were set up with a primarily economic remit. The remit of the Regional Funding Allocations widens the subject matter to be covered by these partnerships and, together with the development of city region partnerships (under the Northern Way banner), it would seem sensible for city regions/sub regions to re-visit their partnership arrangements to ensure they provide the comprehensive response called for by the Regional Funding Allocation approach. Partners in the Humber sub region are currently engaged in just such an exercise.

  1.6  Such a revisiting of sub-regional partnership arrangements ought to contribute to a simplification (at least at this particular spatial level) of existing arrangements.


  2.1  There is clearly potential for "sub-regional" area agreements in a city region context (modelled on the Local Area Agreements which are currently being rolled out).

  2.2  An example could encompass post 2007 European Union competitiveness funding which (if available) should be sub delegated to cities/city regions (in the Northern Way context). This is suggested in the Commission Regulation on Structural Funds.

  2.3  Compelling arguments have been put forward in favour of the devolution of powers to the local level (from national as well as regional levels). Indeed, American and European examples of the benefits of greater local autonomy and governance have been a key feature of the ODPM's sustainable communities summits.


  3.1  The effectiveness of current arrangements for managing services at the various levels, and their inter-relationships must, surely be called into question by the fact that the UK has the highest variation in Gross Domestic Product per capita of any EU country.[55]


  4.1  Increasing governmental and academic interest in the concept of city regions derives perhaps from three main sources: the recognition that elected regional government in England is no longer on the agenda; the weight of academic evidence on the role of cities as economic drivers,[56] and an increased awareness that tackling issues at the right spatial level, is essential.

  4.2  An ODPM Select Committee inquiry in 2003 into the effectiveness of Government regeneration initiatives singled out Hull (and Stoke) as cities ". . . where heavily disadvantaged wards are the norm rather than the exception" and recommended that the Government should establish a central resource which can provide extra support and resources to such cities.[57] In its response to the Select Committee, the Government agreed that ". . . there are severe limitations to the effectiveness of area based initiatives in areas experiencing severe deprivation and that neighbourhood renewal needs to be viewed in the context of a broader economic and social strategy for the wider area".[58]

  4.3  Clearly, the city region concept provides the "space" for the development of a broader economic and social strategy for Hull, as it entails understanding the various interrelationships between the City and its hinterland (which is, of course, in another local authority area). The establishment of a Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder (Gateway) in Hull and the East Riding if Yorkshire (although the Pathfinder delivery area is in Hull), highlights the close relationship between the two local authority areas in terms of a shared housing market.

  4.4  Recent research commissioned by Hull City Council has examined the economic interrelationships between Hull and its hinterland and shows that 30% of the jobs in Hull are occupied by residents of the East Riding of Yorkshire. The strength of this interaction varies significantly across the occupations of commuters. About half of all key managerial and professional jobs in Hull are held by in-commuters from the East Riding in contrast to only 15% of the routine jobs.[59]

  4.5  Regeneration and development efforts in the City of Hull over recent years provide a good example of the plethora of area based initiatives which have been drawn up to tackle a variety of matters. Of the 51 Area Based Initiatives listed in the Government's "Review of Area Based Initiatives" (October 2002), some 40 have operated in Hull in recent years.

  4.6  The proliferation of these (area based) initiatives along with the resources which go into securing and operating them, have perhaps meant that the primary cause of these manifestations of social exclusion which such initiatives are meant to address—Hull's economic underperformance—is frighteningly easy to lose sight of. This is particularly so when governance perspectives are limited by lines on maps ie local authority boundaries.

  4.7  It is for this reason, that Hull City Council welcomes the new spatial perspective which the city region concept offers. The challenge, inherent in the Northern Way initiative is to explain the Hull and Humber Ports City Region's evidence-based case for targeted additional investment. We note that recent research has emphasised the "missing" economic dimension of Neighbourhood Renewal and specifically commended a wider spatial perspective to address economic intervention.[60]

  4.8  Government constantly reiterates that city regions should be understood as being about the economic footprint of a city (and its city region) rather than being about governance arrangements.

  4.9  There is no widely accepted agreed definition of the concept of a city region. However, one comprehensive definition posits: "A strategic and political level of administration and policy making, extending beyond the administrative boundaries of single urban local government authorities to include urban and/or semi rural hinterlands. This definition includes a range of institutions and agencies representing local and regional governance that possess an interest in urban and/or economic development matters, which together, form a strategic level of policy making intended to formulate or implement policies on a broader metropolitan scale".[61]

  4.10  The Northern Way established eight city regions in the North of England. The Hull and Humber Ports City Region is held to comprise the four local authority areas of Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire. Each of the North's eight city regions is currently engaged in drawing up a second iteration of their City Region Development Programmes (which explain the contribution each city region can make to reducing the output gap which exists between the North and the average for England). UK Government guidance on city regions emphasises the key element in understanding a city region are the flows between the major city/cities of the city region and its hinterland. These flows are based on labour market analysis, commuting patterns, housing markets, retail, leisure and education flows.

  4.11  The Hull and Humber Ports City Region has welcomed the incentive provided by the challenge of the Northern Way to work more closely across local authority boundaries. However, whilst it may well be that "the adoption of a city region based spatial context can only contribute to the effective implementation of public policy if it is accompanied by supporting changes in the structure of administrative and governmental organisations",[62] such changes do not have to be compulsory, neither do they have to be uniform across city regions. Parkinson's research has emphasised the importance of "informal strategic alliances" being the norm in continental Europe.[63]

  4.12  Moreover, in explaining the economic underperformance of the North, "we may find that both co-ordination and information failures concerning the economic assets and opportunities of sub regional economies, and the failure of past public policies may also have played a part".[64] Here, in Hull and Humber Ports City Region we are aware that we are at a very early stage in exploring the co-ordination and information failures which may have attended the organisation (and performance) of our sub regional economy.

  4.13  Partners and stakeholders in the Hull and Humber Ports City Region are aware that a typology or hierarchy of city regions is developing in England. Major city regions such as Leeds and Manchester may well want (and need) to explore more formal arrangements for city region working. Hull City Council would be relaxed about the development of any such asymmetrical sub regional governance arrangements; just as the Yorkshire & Humber Assembly has recognised that approaches in one part of Yorkshire and Humber may not apply elsewhere in the region. One size really does not fit all.


  5.1  This is a matter of some concern, particularly in the Hull and Humber Ports City Region, with its large range of coastal and rural settlements. We are aware that ODPM has sponsored work on the minimum criteria (size etc) for a functional city region and we look forward to utilising this work as part of the second iteration of the Hull and Humber Ports City Region Development Programme (to be completed by September 2006—as part of the Northern Way submission to Comprehensive Spending Review 2007.

  5.2  The Northern Way's insistence upon the need for tough decisions about investment priorities makes it imperative that our understanding of how city regions work (and the evidence upon which that understanding is based) is widely shared and understood.


  6.1  We welcome the closer inter-regional co-operation which "working the Northern Way" necessitates. We are conscious of the changes in the structure of employment and industry which are likely to occur over the Northern Way time frame (15-20 years) and the global forces which will shape a great deal of this transformation.[65] Inter-regional cooperation will be essential for the optimum exploitation of the many assets the North has.

50   Reducing Regional Disparities in Prosperity, ODPM Select Committee, July 2003. Back

51   A modern regional policy for the UK, HM Treasury/DTI/ODPM, March 2003. Back

52   "Devolution is a process not a policy: the new governance of English regions", Findings from the Economic and Research Council's Research Programme on "Devolution and Constitutional Change", Briefing No 18, February 2005, by Mark Sandford, Research Fellow in regional government, Constitution Unit, University College, London. Back

53   Ibid. Back

54   ibid. Back

55   Productivity in the UK: the Regional Dimension, HM Treasury, November 2001. Back

56   Eg Porter's study on "The Competitive Advantage of Nations" (1990) and "Competitive European Cities: Where do the core cities stand?", M Parkinson et al, ODPM, January 2004. Back

57   The Effectiveness of Government Regeneration Initiatives, ODPM Select Committee, April 2003, par 33. Back

58   The Government's Response to the ODPM Select Committee Report on The Effectiveness of Government Regeneration Initiatives, Cm 5865, July 2003. (Emphasis ours). Back

59   The Natural Economy of Hull, The Local Futures Group, May 2005, commissioned by Hull City Council. Back

60   "Connecting Deprived Neighbourhoods to Local and Regional Economies", Stephen Syrett and David North, Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research, presentation at ODPM City Growth Event: City Growth and Governance: Connecting the Local to the City Regional, London, July 22, 2005. Back

61   "The Politics of City-Region Planning and Governance", Mark Tewdwer-Jones and Donald McNeill, in European Urban and Regional Studies, 7(2): pp 119-134, 2000. Back

62   "Perspectives on City Regions", John B. Barr, University of Glasgow, Regional Studies Vol 39.5, July 2005. Back

63   Competitive European Cities-Where do the Core Cities stand? M Parkinson et al, ODPM, 2004. Back

64   "What does regional and urban policy tell us about City-Regions and what are the key questions we still need to answer?", Paul Hildreth and Greg Clarke, ODPM, (working draft). Back

65   Cf "Regional Futures: England's Region's in 2030", English Regions Network, RDA Planning Leads Group, ODPM, DfT, January 2005. Back

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