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

Memorandum by Richard Buttrey (RG 64)


  I write in my capacity as a Council tax-payer in the North West. I have closely followed the workings of the North West Regional Assembly (NWRA), and attended meetings for two years. I have no particular knowledge of other Assemblies.

  It is clear that the NWRA Assembly is largely a networking club for local councillors. This is evidenced in much of their literature and conferences. It seems to have little relevance to the people of the North West and most of the public have no idea that it exists. To the extent that they are aware, they believe that they were at some stage going to be given a referendum on whether to have an Assembly at all, and it comes as a complete surprise to most that it already exists. It is unrepresentative and does not adhere to normal standards of accountability.

  These deficiencies are not a reason for reforming it, rather eliminating it and devolving powers back to local councils. With MEPs, MPs, local and parish councillors we have sufficient representation. What we don't need is another level of government.

1.  Unrepresentative

  In the last region wide election, that of the 2004 European Parliamentary election, the Labour party gained 27% of the NW vote. Yet the NWRA is dominated by Labour councillors who account for 60% of the local authority councillors on the Assembly.

2.  Unaccountable

  2.1  The NWRA has not published its accounts for two years, and at the date of writing this submission, still we don't yet have a date when they will be published. The NWRA costs the public purse over £5 million. It is totally unacceptable and against all the normal standards of public accountability that we have not seen the accounts since 2003.

  2.2  The NWRA is in breach of its own constitution. Under section 13 (c) of its constitution, local authority subscriptions for 2005-06 should have been paid by 30 September 2005. By that date not one of the local authorities had paid. (Confirmed in a letter to me by the Monitoring Officer of St. Helens MBC, the lead authority for the NWRA).

  When, at its 18 November 2005 meeting, I complained to the Chairman of the Assembly (Councillor John Joyce of Warrington BC) that the Assembly was conducting business in contravention of its constitution, he replied that, "the Assembly is akin to a private club", and that members (sic) present could unilaterally vote for continuing in business. Which they duly did.

  What should have happened is that a vote to become a member of the NWRA should have been put to councillors in all NW local authorities, and the whole council should have decided. This never happened and so in my opinion the NWRA and its members (sic), are acting ultra-vires.

  It is completely unacceptable that a body paid for by the public purse can regard itself as a private club.

  2.3  Last June the NWRA re-structured itself and set up an 18 member board. Despite the web site saying this was, "following widespread consultation across the length and breadth of the North West", and despite my particular interest in the Assembly, I detected no consultation whatsoever, and certainly not at local authority level.

  2.4  Last May the Chief Executive of the Assembly was suspended. Nearly eight months later we are still unaware as to why.

Richard Buttrey

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