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


Memorandum by Yorkshire Forward (RG 57)

1.  BACKGROUND

  1.1  Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency for Yorkshire and Humber, is pleased to contribute to this inquiry. We are aware that there is a combined RDA response, which we support, and that many of our RDA colleagues are also intending to make submissions.

2.  REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCIES (RDAS)

  2.1  Yorkshire Forward is the RDA responsible for the sustainable economic development of Yorkshire and Humber. The organisation is one of eight RDAs in England, created under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 with the following purposes:

    —  To further economic development and regeneration.

    —  To promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness.

    —  To promote employment.

    —  To enhance development and application of skills relevant to employment.

    —  To contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.

  2.2  As a region-wide organisation who works with a wide range of partners to deliver for the people and businesses of the region we are well placed to comment on this inquiry.

3.  KEY ISSUES

3.1  Increasing the accountability of decision making and the regional and sub-regional level

  3.1.1  RDA Accountability: As facilitators for sub-regional and regional decision making on the expenditure of the RDA "single pot", Yorkshire Forward delivers to and on behalf of the region. The accountability procedures that are in place, through the sub regional partnerships (particularly for Sub Regional Investment Planning), the scrutiny process undertaken by the regional assembly, the publication of an Annual Report and Accounts, and a public Annual General Meeting are more than adequate. Additionally, the National Audit Office is about to commence an Independent Performance Assessment of the RDA which will contribute to our accountability to the region.

  3.1.2  However, there are some other options that could be explored. One of these is to establish a Select Committee for each of the regions, to ensure accountability to the elected representatives from the region. Another would be to have a specific time for questioning established in the House of Commons which dealt only with regional issues with Ministers from all Departments present.

  3.1.3  Regional Accountability: With regard to the regional assembly, some clarity on their role and remit might be useful to the region, as they are the only truly regional partnership. At this stage they would appear to have a degree of some lack of accountability, and this could be addressed in an appropriate way.

3.2  Potential for devolution of powers from regional to local level

  3.2.1  It is difficult to consider the "regional" powers that are currently in existence, apart from the devolved responsibility we have as an RDA for the expenditure of the "single pot" and the various functions of the regional assembly.

  3.2.2  There is a point to be made however for greater decision making at the local level, but these would be in areas other than those mentioned in paragraph 3.2.1. The recent work of the RDA, the regional assembly and the Government Office for Yorkshire and Humber on Regional Funding Allocations is a good example of devolving power to the region and encouraging input from a more localised perspective.

  3.2.3  If there is a movement towards subsidiarity, it must be recognised that this will need to involve a strong regional presence and input. Local Authorities will always have a democratic mandate but are not always best placed to deliver.

  3.2.4  We do not have a view on the establishment of an Elected Regional Assembly, should this ever come back onto the Government's agenda.

3.3.  Effectiveness of current arrangements for managing services at the various levels and their inter-relationships

  3.3.1  The current arrangements appear to be working well. There has been a long-running review of the regional assembly in Yorkshire and Humber which has affected the way the assembly is perceived by some in the region. However, it has not affected the operation of the assembly as it has contributed to the review of the Regional Economic Strategy (RES) and lead on the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS).

  3.3.2  The Local Authorities also appear to be managing services well. Managed by the Association of Local Authorities, we are a member of the Local Government Improvement and Innovation Partnership, which is a capacity building programme for officers and elected members. The region participated in a pilot in 2004-05, having successfully bid for funding from ODPM. The Partnership is in the final stages of negotiating on the approval of a new strategy and funding for the coming three years.

  3.3.3  The pilot programme did some work around sharing best practice and joining up services on waste management and ICT. These have contributed to the learning and partnership working across the region. The Partnership hopes to continue these types of activities and expand on them when the new phase of funding is approved.

3.4  Potential for new arrangements, particularly the establishment of city regions

  3.4.1  Within Yorkshire and Humber there are three city regions—Sheffield, Leeds, and Hull and Humber Ports. These city regions cover five million people and aim to contribute to the growth of the north on an economic and geographical basis.

  3.4.2  We have supported the city regions and the City Region Development Plans that have been proposed by each area, and will continue to work with them to hopefully attain a stronger alignment to the RES. We are firmly of the belief that the economy should be the focus of the city regions, and that the discussions around governance and city regions have been distracting.

  3.4.3  We are in favour of city regional work to bring together a wide range of issues. At the very least they should cover the economy, skills, transport, planning and housing, but would also advocate the inclusion of health, culture and the environment. City regions must also engage with the expanding regional agenda and should not become "mini regions" in their own right.

3.5  Impact of new regional and sub-regional arrangements, such as city regions, might have upon peripheral towns and cities

  3.5.1  Consideration must be given to those cities and towns that fall outside of the defined city region boundaries. There is also consideration to be given to those towns and cities that cross regional boundaries also, particularly with regard to the delivery of regeneration programmes.

  3.5.2  It should also be recognised that there is the potential for tension between the "core cities" and other towns and cities within a city region.

  3.5.3  Both of these issues need to be addressed through collaborative working and through the genuine engagement of those towns and cities that view themselves as being outside the core towns and cities.

3.6  Desirability of closer inter-regional cooperation (eg. Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities

  3.6.1  The Northern Way aims to make the North of England an area of exceptional opportunity, combining a world class economy with a superb quality of life. We support the concept of the Northern Way and are working closely with the other two Northern RDAs, One North East and the North West Development Agency, to make this vision a reality.

  3.6.2  We are committed to ensuring close working between the RDAs and the relevant Local Authorities, business, and the voluntary and community sectors, as there is still work to be done in this area to ensure the maximum benefit for the North from this strategy.

  3.6.3  The three Northern regions have worked closely on the Comprehensive Spending Review, lead by Yorkshire Forward, to negotiate for funding to implement the Northern Way Business Plan, and there may be the need to review the role and remit of the Northern Way when this Review is completed.





 
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