Memorandum by the West Midlands Regional
Assembly (WMRA) (RG 51)
(a) The West Midlands Regional Assembly
(hereon referred to as "the Assembly") welcomes the
opportunity to respond to this inquiry and to highlight briefly
the work it has been involved in, particularly its successes to
date and future work plan, which we feel will be useful to this
Inquiry. The Assembly would also welcome the opportunity of presenting
oral evidence to the Inquiry.
(b) Firstly we would like to express how
timely the Inquiry is given the current work the Assembly is undertaking
on submitting a response on Regional Funding Allocations, the
Barker ReviewRegional Housing Board and Regional Planning
Body merger proposals and a number of key planning policy documents.
(c) The West Midlands Regional Assembly
consists of 100 nominated representatives from a wide range of
democratic, social and economic interests throughout the West
Midlands Region. There are 68 members representing the local authority
sector, 16 representing the business sector and 16 representing
other economic and social partners, for example, trade unions,
health, further education, higher education, culture, housing
associations, environment, parish councils, voluntary and community
sector, black and minority ethnic community, disability, gender
and faith communities.
(d) The Assembly provides a platform for
organisations to consider matters of common interest including:
regional planning, housing, transport, economic prosperity, sustainability,
culture and Europe.
(e) The Assembly is the Regional Planning
Body for the Region, with statutory responsibility for developing
and implementing the Regional Spatial Strategy and for scrutinising
the operation of the Region's Development Agency, Advantage West
Midlands. Another key function of the Assembly is to ensure alignment
of key regional strategies, particularly the Regional Spatial
Strategy, the Regional Housing Strategy and the Regional Economic
(f) The Assembly conducts its business through
working in partnership with key regional agencies, under the guidance
of the West Midlands Regional Concordat. Further details on the
Concordat and its partners can be found at: http://www.wmra.gov.uk/page.asp?id=9
(g) To support the full Assembly in its
work, a series of Policy Partnerships and corresponding officer
groups exist to ensure knowledge and expertise within each policy
area is captured from around the Region, from a wide range of
local, regional and regionally based national organisations and
(h) The Assembly believes that the Region
is ideally placed spatially to address the links that exist between
economic, social and environmental issues and that it is particularly
at the regional level where the spatial inter-relationship between
many of these issues becomes apparent along with their implications
for the principles of sustainable development and an integrated
1. The potential for increasing the accountability
of decision-making at the regional and sub-regional level, and
the need to simplify existing arrangements
1.1 The Assembly feels that it has a high
degree of accountability currently, particularly given its membership
size and structure. As mentioned previously there are 100 members
of the full Assembly, with representatives from all local authorities,
weighted to reflect size and a 4:1:1 ratio of local authority
members to business and other stakeholders.
1.2 The membership of the Policy Partnerships
is drawn from the Region rather than the Assembly itself. They
provide further opportunity along with the officer support structure,
for a broad membership to ensure wide representation from a full
range of interests as possible to input into decision making at
the regional level.
1.3 One possible way of increasing further
the Assembly's accountability is to formalise how local authority
Assembly members report back to their local authorities on the
issues being discussed and their outcomes and implications for
local authority work. Similarly if Local Authority members had
an opportunity to discuss issues on Assembly and Policy Partnerships
in advance with their local authorities, this would also improve
1.4 Whilst it may be possible to simplify
existing arrangements, the Assembly currently aims to be clear
and concise and effective over a number of policy areas, which
can be very complex. Thus the mechanisms and structures for Assembly
working need to reflect this to ensure the wide range of policy
issues, geographic dimensions and interests of Assembly members
(due to its size and range of sector engagement) are addressed
yet communicated as effectively as possible to a wide audience.
So whilst a steer from ODPM would be welcome as to how existing
arrangements could be simplified, the Assembly feels that each
region is in the best position to determine what works best with
current resource and capacity parameters.
1.5 Also on the issue of accountability,
whilst the Assembly is not legally obliged to comply with the
Freedom of Information Act, in the spirit of openness and transparency
the Assembly has agreed to respond to Freedom of Information requests
and has recently done so.
1.6 The role of the Assembly and of all
assemblies is to provide a forum to represent the issues, often
of smaller local authorities, experienced by more than one of
them, ie to identify mutual problems and act on their behalf with
a stronger single regional voice.
1.7 Another example is Assembly responses
to the many and various Government consultation documents such
as, draft PPS3, Barker Review of Housing Supply and Planning for
Housing Provision. The Assembly, through its support structures
and networks is able to achieve consensus across the Region and
respond to Government consultation documents often at very short
notice. Thus the Assembly's added value is very much about the
weight of its opinion as a regional voice, whilst also setting
the context for local and sub-regional work.
1.8 All of this work is vital to the Assembly
and its members welcome the opportunity for their decision making
and empowerment ability to increase its accountability and role,
particularly in relation to the Government's agenda of devolving
power to the more local level to local people.
1.9 The Assembly takes full advantage of
a wide range of mechanisms to disseminate its work within the
Region and more widely via its website (which can be accessed
at: www.wmra.gov.uk) email groups/networks, mail outs, newsletters,
press releases, various publications and also by presenting at
events/conferences/seminars, etc. All of this work is co-ordinated
by our Communications Team to ensure consistency.
2. The potential for devolution of powers
from regional to local level
2.1 It is important to note here that the
Assembly believes that one of the initial purposes of the Regional
Assemblies was the devolution of powers from Whitehall to the
regions, as opposed to drawing up power from local authorities.
It is this devolution from central Government to the regions which
the Assembly supports.
2.2 Also in terms of the Assembly's current
statutory role of acting as the Regional Planning Body and undertaking
scrutiny, we feel that these are best left at the regional level.
2.3 Planning is just beginning to change
following the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, thus
the Assembly feels that time is needed to bed in these principles
and statutory responsibilities for producing Regional Spatial
2.4 In relation to particular policy areas
such as planning and housing it is felt more clarity on the roles
of different tiers of local government is welcome and it would
be helpful if the proposed White Paper on decentralising power
to local people were an opportunity to clarify this.
2.5 With regards to the Assembly's scrutiny
role (which will be referred to in more detail under question
3), the Assembly feels that local authorities are committed to
working with us on this but do not have the capacity to undertake
2.6 In relation to the Regional Development
Agency, Advantage West Midlands, the Assembly feels that there
is a need for greater devolution of local service delivery to
local service providers, including local authorities.
3. The effectiveness of current arrangements
for managing services at the various levels and their inter-relationships
3.1 The West Midlands is very effective
at co-ordinating wide partnership working across a number of partners
within the Region and across a number of policy themes. As mentioned
in the introduction, the Assembly delivers its work through a
series of Policy Partnerships which draw their membership from
a wide range of organisations and individuals with the appropriate
expertise and level of influence. Supporting these Partnerships
are a series of Officer groups, again whose membership is determined
according to expertise in the field.
3.2 In order for these Officer groups to
effectively support the Partnerships and full Assembly we work
closely with all the Regions 38 local authorities to capture their
expertise on key policy areas and we also have Service Level Agreements
with the strategic authorities on a number of planning activities,
ie RSS Policy Leads, conformity, etc.
3.3 The Assembly also works very closely
with the West Midlands Local Government Association (WMLGA) on
a number of policy areas relating to specific local government
issues. Also in terms of inter-relationships, WMLGA and the Assembly
hold meetings of full Assembly and WMLGA Association on the same
day and there is cross over of membership between WMLGA's Executive
Committee and the Assembly's Board. In addition WMLGA has a series
of elected member Portfolio Holders for key policy areas who as
well as supporting WMLGA, also Chair the corresponding Policy
Partnership under the Assembly. This ensures that there is no
duplication of effort and ensures good cross linkage between both
organisations and their partners at regional and local level.
3.4 The Assembly's joint working with WMLGA
is exemplified even further in the administrative arrangements
that exist, in that there a number of shared resources between
the two organisations, such as accommodation, office equipment,
administrative support, financial support, Support Officer requirements
and Policy support. This ensures cost effectiveness and efficiency
across both organisations.
3.5 The effectiveness of current arrangements
can also be exemplified through the assembly's co-ordinating role
for regional strategies, such as the Regional Spatial Strategy,
Regional Housing Strategy, Regional Economic Strategy, Regional
Energy Strategy to name a few, down to sub-regional and local
level and vice versa. The Assembly believes in the value of undertaking
this co-ordinating role and whilst it feels that a great deal
is achieved, it is very resource intensive and needs adequate
resourcing in order to be effective and efficient.
3.6 Given the Assembly's responsibility
for producing the statutory Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) and
ensuring local development frameworks are in conformity, the Assembly
feels that further resources would enable it to be more effective
in this increasingly demanding role. For example, resources are
required to be represented at public inquiries and defend the
RSS when being challenged by planning appeals. The Assembly therefore
feels that the work of the Planning Body and the enhanced housing
role (following the proposed merger of Regional Housing Boards
and Regional Planning Bodies) needs to be effectively resourced.
3.7 The Assembly has worked closely with
Advantage West Midlands (AWM) and Government Office West Midlands
(GOWM) to develop an effective and balanced scrutiny process as
set out in the Strategic Review Protocol which can be accessed
3.8 The Assembly through its scrutiny process
aims to be a critical friend to Advantage West Midlands, informing
policy development and enhancing its strategic approach. The Assembly
calls on a wide range of regional and local partners across the
Region to contribute to the scrutiny process. Further detail on
the process is available in Appendix 2.
3.9 Another example of the effectiveness
of current arrangements is the work the West Midlands Local Government
Association (WMLGA) have been undertaking regarding Local Area
Agreements (LAAs). Since LAAs were announced in July 2004, WMLGA
has worked closely with its constituent authorities and associated
partners, to support them in the development and implementation
of these new arrangements. WMLGA developed early links with the
GOWM Strategic LAA Co-ordinator, which has included ongoing close
liaison with the GO Strategic Steering Group. This included early
briefing and information exchange sessions with the pilot LAAs.
3.10 For the 2nd round LAAs a series of
events were organised to facilitate learning and best practice,
which has included:
A regional getting started event.
During September 2005 a series of
events were delivered, focussing on each of the thematic blocks
of the LAA framework.
WMLGA also ran a number of sub regional
"Introduction to LAAs" sessions specifically for elected
members, to enable them to gain a better understanding of LAAs,
and their role within this.
3.11 As part of the ongoing LAA support
programme, the key agencies WMLGA, GOWM, AWM and IDeA are working
together to pool their resources in providing support specifically
for 3rd round LAAs. WMLGA is also facilitating linkage between
agencies developing strategy at a regional level and is strengthening
its relationship with lead officers from the National LGA.
3.12 It is important to note here, that
in terms of the effectiveness of current arrangements, there are
current difficulties being experienced as different Government
departments often give conflicting guidance to local authorities
on regional and local issues, for example, there appears to be
a lack of clear understanding or recognition by the Audit Commission
of the way in which ODPM and Regional Housing Boards have been
encouraging local authorities to work together and with regional
bodies. Colleagues in the Region also have experience of the Planning
Inspectorate Service not giving due weight to the findings of
housing needs or market assessments.
4. The potential for new arrangements, particularly
the establishment of city regions
4.1 Recently there has been an intensification
of the debate about the nature and role of City Regions, particularly
in the context of the Assembly's core activities, namely its role
as Regional Planning Body, scrutineer of the Regional Development
Agency and as facilitator of regional strategic partnership work.
4.2 In the West Midlands the seven Metropolitan
Authorities with encouragement from ODPM, are actively pursuing
a City Region approach. Stoke-on-Trent is also exploring a case
for a City Region with support from ODPM.
4.3 There has been much conjecture about
how the City Region approach will play into and support existing
regional and sub-regional arrangements. Recent meetings of the
Planning Partnership and Assembly Board have discussed the City
Region approach. West Midlands Local Government Association also
hosted an event for Leaders and Chief Executives from all 38 local
authorities to discuss and understand the relationship between
the West Midlands Region and the City Region approach.
4.4 An outcome of those discussions is the
appended (1) agreed statement by the Assembly on 18 January 2006
named; "West Midlands RegionIncorporating A City Region
and Sub-Regional Approach"; the purpose of which is to:
Clarify the expectations that the
Assembly has of the City Region approach.
Agree in outline the nature of the
relationship between the Assembly and the City Region approach.
Confirm to ODPM that the Assembly
is supportive of the City Region approach as set out in the statement
Set the above in the context of the
Region as a whole with all its sub-regions.
4.5 It is important to note that this is
the Assembly's view at the time of this submission. As the regional
and City Region agenda is an evolving one both regionally and
nationally, the Assembly may wish to review this position at appropriate
points in time.
5. The impact which new regional and sub-regional
arrangements, such as the city regions, might have upon the peripheral
towns and cities
5.1 Please refer to the Assembly's response
to question 4 above and also appendix 1the West Midlands
RegionCity Region mission statement.
5.2 As promoted above under question 4 a
whole region approach needs to be adopted to ensure that each
town/settlement and sub-region has a role to play. This is the
premise of the Regional Spatial Strategy. Any new regional or
sub-regional governance arrangements require careful thought and
the full involvement of the Assembly. The Assembly is best placed
to broker and facilitate any such new arrangements.
6. The desirability of closer inter-regional
co-operation (as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities
6.1 The West Midlands has strong relationships
with the regions on its borders and a great deal of cross-border
work takes place with the South East, North West, Wales, East
Midlands and South West.
6.2 The Assembly and its partners fully
recognises that trade and commerce do not recognise regional/administrative
borders, just as housing markets do not respect local authority
boundaries. Thus the Assembly works hard to engage with other
regions on key strategic issues as appropriate and where there
is mutual benefit.
6.3 The Assembly is also actively involved
in the English Regions Network (ERN) which promotes shared views
and understanding across regional boundaries on a range of issues,
eg planning, housing, transport. The Network provides a valuable
opportunity for Assemblies to share their approaches to key policy
areas and also to respond to Government consultation documents
with a single unifying voice across all of the regional assemblies.
6.4 The two Midlands Regional Development
Agencies are leading the development of Smart Growth: Midlands
Way, together with the Regional Assemblies, Government Offices
and City Regions (currently the West Midlands Metropolitan Districts
and the East Midlands Three Cities). Currently there is a brief
for further work aimed at developing the existing strategic framework
set out for Midlands Way and to identify opportunities for the
East and West Midlands and the top end of South East (Milton Keynes
South Midlands) to work together.
6.5 The Assembly believes that whilst it
is vital to work across regional boundaries on important issues,
these should not necessarily be confined solely to Midlands Way.
6.6 The Assembly is wary of establishing
formal structures between regions, whilst acknowledging that informal
working arrangements are very important and indeed are already
in place and working well.
6.7 The Assembly's, AWM's and GOWM's soon
to be submitted Regional Funding Allocations response is very
much about how we as a Region want to raise our game to bring
our GDP closer in line with the UK, therefore ODPM needs to be
clear to the regions as to where priorities for activity lie,
whilst acknowledging the mutual inter-relationship of all regions.