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

Memorandum by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) (RG 74)


    —  Regional governance in England has not ground to a halt since the North East referendum in November 2004. New regional arrangements continue to be established, in part driven by the Chapter 2 Agenda as well as elements of the Government's public sector modernisation programme.

    —  An accountability gap remains at the heart of regional governance in England. The TUC believes that effective stakeholder engagement can play an important role in strengthening governance at regional, sub-regional and local levels.

    —  Hubs of governance (eg Regional Assemblies and local authorities) have to demonstrate they are fit for purpose for facilitating stakeholder engagement. Equally, stakeholders themselves have to demonstrate fit for purpose.

    —  At present, City Region governance lacks broader stakeholder engagement. Steps should be taken to encourage wider participation.


  1.1  The TUC is the voice of Britain at work. With 67 affiliated unions representing nearly six and half million working people from all walks of life, it campaigns for a fair deal at work and for social justice at home and abroad. The TUC negotiates in Europe, and at home builds links with political parties, business, local communities and wider society.

  1.2  At the regional level, the TUC structure is organised into the Wales TUC and six regions across England. The Scottish TUC is a separate body, although it works closely with the TUC. The Wales TUC and the TUC regions are recognised as influential stakeholders in the governance of regional development in England and the UK's devolved territories.


  2.1  Alongside Central Government in its different forms, an array of institutions and agents are operating within the field of regional and sub-national public policy. London aside, the pattern of governance across the English regions has become much more complex and multi-layered.

  2.2  There is growing evidence that the evolution of regionalisation in England should be seen as being rooted in a set of deeper trends and policy-making processes derived from both New Labour and the UK state, rather than as a precursor to regional government. As such, the subject of regional governance in England requires closer scrutiny.[88]

  2.3  In line with its support for the notions of subsidiarity and accountability, TUC policy has backed the establishment of elected regional government in England, having welcomed the introduction of political devolution in Scotland, Wales and London. Many trade unions in the regions and devolved territories have begun to realise the opportunities presented by regional and devolved governance across the UK.[89]

  2.4  Several reasons are said to lie behind the overwhelming "no" vote in the North East referendum in November 2004, including an apparent perception that an Elected Regional Assembly (ERA) would be inefficient and lead to higher taxes, and would have limited impact in boosting the Region's economy or voice in Europe.[90] The fallout from the referendum has generated limited appetite within Government to push for the creation of new political institutions in the English regions and localities. Elected regional government is off the political agenda for the foreseeable future.

  2.5  However, governance at the regional level has not ground to a halt. Instead, regional government in England, albeit in a non-elected guise, continues to evolve, in part driven by the dynamics of the "Chapter 2 Agenda", which has provided a basis for Government to recast the mechanisms for delivering elements of national policy.[91] The drive to decentralise and rescale public policy and public service delivery has accelerated in the aftermath of the North East referendum. Central Government considers Regional Assemblies as the most appropriate bodies to take on the role of regional co-ordination, mindful perhaps that a gap in democratic accountability remains at the centre of regional development and governance in England.[92] Government Offices and Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) have seen their responsibilities increased, while Regional Assemblies have assumed the lead role in preparing Regional Spatial Strategies (eg planning and housing). Regional Assemblies also undertake important scrutiny of the RDAs and Regional Economic Strategies. Regional Skills Partnerships have been established, while new mechanisms have been put in place, via the Regional Funding Allocations, for regions to determine spend on economic development, housing and transport priorities, albeit within the parameters of national frameworks.

  2.6  An emergent theme within the regional agenda is the Government's public service modernisation programme built on the premise of generating greater efficiency. Proposals to reorganise fire and rescue, health and police and prison services in England appear to reflect a rationale on the part of Government that the regional tier represents a useful scale in which to deliver important elements of its public service "reform" programme. The Learning and Skills Council's (LSC) Agenda for Change, which seeks to rationalise local LSC offices and strengthen regional mechanisms, could also be viewed as an important part of this process. Affiliate unions planning to submit written evidence to this inquiry may expand upon some of the industrial implications derived from this development.

  2.7  Similarly, the Local Government Modernisation Agenda (LGMA) has sought to encapsulate attempts to improve performance management, efficiency and productivity. Initiatives such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, Local Strategic Partnerships and Local Area Agreements reflect new attempts to encourage and engender a more holistic approach to local development and sustainable communities.

  2.8  The issue of scale and the appropriate level at which governance should be formulated and delivered in England is worthy of consideration. The TUC supports the principle of subsidiarity to underpin regional, sub-regional and local forms of governance. Regional bodies can play an effective role in managing strategic activities, such as waste, planning, housing, skills and transport. Yet, more localised tiers, closer to the public and consumers of services, should play the lead role in delivery.


  3.1  Amidst what is still recognised as a yawning gap in the accountability of governance in the English regions, attention has turned to the existing role, structure and performance of Regional Assemblies.[93] In particular, a fresh examination has been launched on the mechanisms for making regional bodies, such as Assemblies, more accountable to regions and localities. The Assemblies are recognised by Central Government and others as useful vehicles for bringing together a wide coalition of interests, including local authorities, business, trade unions and the voluntary and community sectors.

  3.2  Regional assemblies, such as the North East Assembly, have undertaken a comprehensive examination of internal processes, external relationships and governance arrangements. Under the heading of "New Horizons—The Way Forward", members of the North East Assembly have agreed a series of measures designed to improve the operation, effectiveness and accountability of the Assembly as it delivers its statutory functions.

  3.3  The TUC believes that a key driver of successful regional governance is effective stakeholder engagement. The review undertaken by the North East Assembly has produced an agreement to underpin the process of stakeholder engagement inside the Assembly with a statement of principles. The principles reflect a desire on the part of members to strengthen the role of stakeholders in Assembly business. There are three elements to the process. First, a series of overarching arrangements illustrate the significance attached to engagement based on genuine equality, diversity, transparency, accountability and inclusion. In addition, stakeholders should be equipped with the capacity to make meaningful interventions at all levels of Assembly business. Second, the Assembly itself is expected to ensure that its proposed modus operandi operates in such a fashion that stakeholder engagement can flourish. Third, stakeholders themselves are expected to operate in a transparent manner and to possess open and accessible procedures. Crucially, these overarching principles should apply equally to different forms of governance operating across a range of spatial scales.

  3.4  Governance should not be seen as something that is "done to people". Instead, it should be a process of civic and societal participation in shaping, delivering and evaluating policy decisions that impact on the lives of the general public. Governance, at whatever scale, should also draw upon a wide range of talents from various interests.

  3.5  Stakeholder engagement, which brings together government (central and local), agencies and non-state stakeholders, such as business, trade unions and the voluntary/community sector is the catalyst to effective public policy implementation and delivery. Stakeholder engagement can assist in prioritising key issues or areas for delivery, as evidenced through recent activity undertaken by Regional Transport Boards as part of the Regional Funding Allocations, and as illustrated by the evolving apparatus of Regional Skills Partnerships.

  3.6  Prior to the North East referendum, the TUC welcomed the recognition by Government that the involvement of stakeholders in existing Regional Assemblies had been successful. The Government's approach to regional policy has been framed on partnership or networks, drawing on expertise from institutions and stakeholders. Alongside Central Government, agencies and other institutions, regional stakeholders have made important contributions to shaping and delivering local and regional strategies. The path of devolution in England, whichever course it takes, should not diminish the influence and engagement of stakeholders. Stakeholders contribute towards more accountable governance, and should have a role in regional, sub-regional (including City Region) and local arrangements.

  3.7  A recent study has shed light on stakeholder engagement as part of local government modernisation.[94] The research has produced a set of interim findings that resonate with similar issues raised about the importance attached to improving the qualitative nature of stakeholder engagement with regional governance. Stakeholder engagement at a local level is seen as delivering a significant contribution to public participation in local governance, amidst falling interest in direct forms of political representation. While local government is taking into account the views of stakeholders, service users and residents, there is insufficient evidence at present to support the view that the ability of stakeholders to hold local authorities to account has improved since the LGMA was launched. In addition, concerns have been raised about the representatives of stakeholders and the ability of local government structures, agencies and community groups to reach out and connect with under-represented and under-served individuals and communities. This suggests that the hubs of sub-national governance, in this case, local authorities, need to take the necessary steps to ensure that they are "fit for purpose", and able to function in a manner that encourages and facilitates genuine stakeholder engagement.

  3.8  While the TUC argues that participatory democracy strengthens the accountability of governance at regional, sub-regional and local levels, greater inclusion within the governance process can be improved if stakeholders themselves undertake steps to ensure that their own structures are governed by the principles of inclusion.

  3.9  Representation is the core activity of trade unions. As umbrella organisations, representing the interests of different individual unions, Regional TUCs, by any measure, are significant actors in the regions. Aside from undertaking a traditional role in the workplace, unions also have a stake in influencing and shaping broader polity and socio-economic governance at all levels. TUC Regions in the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, London and the South East are delivering projects with their respective RDAs, which are based on strengthening the trade union contribution to delivering sustainable development in the regions. In addition, with the support of RDAs and LSCs, TUC regions are managing successful regional skills projects.

  3.10  The strength of Regional TUC engagement, alongside an ability to deliver strategy and action, is based on the fact that TUC regions are democratic organisations, governed according to the principles of equality, accountability, transparency and legitimacy. Elected trade union representatives shape Regional TUC activity. Affiliate unions, themselves democratic bodies, ensure that the Regional TUC possesses an effective and meaningful stake in achieving objectives within and across a diverse range of key areas such as, race relations, disabilities, LGBT, women's equality, young people, pensions, skills and learning, public services, international development, economic development and regional governance. For example, representatives of Northern TUC forums leading on these issues, elected via constituent bodies, serve on the Northern TUC Executive Committee, thus strengthening the relationship between affiliate organisations, the Northern TUC and specific subject areas. Research has suggested that the Northern TUC regional structure represents an example of best practice on how to secure, as an accepted principle, the concept of equality and diversity within an umbrella organisation.[95]

  3.11  The inclusion and participation of a wide range of regional partners has strengthened governance in the English regions. The TUC subscribes to a model of stakeholder engagement that is both inclusive and effective. Striking an appropriate balance between the two is not easy. However, creating an effective structure that facilitates both representation and advocacy is a major challenge. Reflecting the findings of LGMA research on stakeholder engagement, the onus at all spatial levels should be on organisations that purport to "represent" interests to demonstrate transparency, accountability and inclusion within their own structures.

  3.12  Reflecting distinct political, economic, social and cultural geographies, the capacity of stakeholders to engage effectively with models of regional and sub-national governance is uneven. Evidence from the UK's devolved territories and regions suggests that new approaches towards participatory governance have placed demands on the capacity of stakeholders to respond to policy developments. As stakeholders are invited to adopt a role in policy formulation, implementation and scrutiny, they require policy/research support.


  4.1  Responding to the Northern Way Growth Strategy, the TUC noted the reference to City Regions as the principal spatial entity for driving up the North's economic performance.[96] City Regions are identified as major vehicles for delivering Regional Economic Strategies in England.[97] Development strategies seeking to reduce disparities between the English regions are encouraged to draw greater attention to the regional roles of City Regions.[98] Interest in City Regions has grown in the aftermath of the North East referendum, drawing attention to the challenge of identifying suitable scales for managing activity that is too small for Central Government or too large for local authorities to deliver.

  4.2  The Government has welcomed new proposals calling for the creation of City Regional government.[99] The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has factored City Regions into its work programme through its Core Cities Group and the Northern Way, and they are expected to form a major strand of the forthcoming local government white paper.

  4.3  Over 90% of the population of the North live in eight city regions, and together they constitute a broad polycentric framework. The Core Cities group suggests that cities are engines of economic growth and, as such, priority action should be taken to strengthening the growth potential of the core city and the wider City Region. However, while the City Regions should be seen as key drivers of economic activity, the TUC also believes it is vital to develop strategies, policies and instruments that pull core cities and their economic/rural hinterlands together rather than apart.[100] We recognise that efforts to "objectively delineate urban and rural areas are always contested and problematic given, not least because of the increasing complexity of spatial relations (the flows of people and things between places)".[101]

  4.4  However, the Northern Way should at least recognise the unique geographical, economic and social circumstances of areas that fall outside the boundaries of the eight City Regions. Reference in the Growth Strategy that City Regions and places outside these areas will benefit in equal measure is welcome, but how this is delivered in practice will be observed closely. The TUC sees the Northern Way as an initiative that will be judged ultimately on its ability to find, and persuade Central Government to adopt, new innovative approaches to tackle the problems of connectivity, transport, housing and employment across different parts of the North of England.

  4.5  In strengthening the contribution of the eight City Regions to the economy of the North, it is important to bear in mind the challenge of global competition. If City Regions are the motors driving the economy of the North, they will have to create higher levels of indigenous enterprise and attract a greater share of external investment. The objective should be to create, attract and embed new economic activity in the North, and not simply displace economic activity from part of the North to another. Intra-regional competition can produce polarising tendencies, forming and exacerbating the cycle of winners and losers. Existing Regional Economic Strategies, aided by elements within the Growth Strategy, should focus on delivering equitable and balanced growth for all parts of the North.

  4.6  Delivering balanced equitable growth requires effective governance, although this is a major challenge for City Regions given the fragmented nature of local authority boundaries, and the difficulty that many core cities face in carrying the cost of undertaking regional roles armed with a wholly inadequate tax base.[102] Greater understanding is required about the precise nature of multi-level governance, and the contribution of national, regional, sub-regional and local government to broader pan-regional regional, sub-regional and local economic performance. Central Government, regional agencies, including the RDAs, Regional Assemblies, Sub-regional Partnerships and local authorities are part of a multi-layered system, which, if it is to be successful, demands maturity from all parties at levels to manage working relationships based on strategic alliances rather than formal institutional change.

  4.7  The TUC has identified a potential flaw in the current shift towards City Region governance, which appears to be driven, in the main, by Central Government and large "metropolitan" local authorities. Alongside the lessons of regional and local governance, it is essential that new forms of City Region governance contain sufficient democratic quality based on direct representative and participatory elements, ie stakeholder engagement.

88   Sandford, M (2005) The New Governance of the English Regions, Palgrave Macmillan. Back

89   O'Brien, P (2005) Devolution, Regionalisation and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), unpublished PhD Thesis, Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Back

90   Rallings, C and Thrasher, M (2005) "Why the North East said No: The 2004 Referendum on and Elected Regional Assembly", ESRC Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme, Briefing No. 19, February. Back

91   Rallings, C and Thrasher, M (2005) "Why the North East said No: The 2004 Referendum on and Elected Regional Assembly", ESRC Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme, Briefing No. 19, February. Back

92   ODPM (2005) Evaluation of the Role and Impact of Regional Chambers: feasibility study, London, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Back

93   In July 2005, the Minister of Communities and Local Government, David Miliband, met with the Chairs of the Regional Assemblies to discuss the developing role of Regional Assemblies. The meeting covered a range of issues, including the balance between executive and scrutiny functions, the balance of stakeholder representations, and the balance between focus and integration. Towards the end of 2005, the Minister wrote to Chair of the English Regions Network and Chairs of all Assemblies inviting them to submit proposals based on how Assemblies would undertake their new responsibilities within the updated guidance that had been drafted for Assemblies. Back

94   ODPM (2005) Meta-Evaluation of the Local Government Modernisation Agenda: Progress Report on Stakeholder Engagement with Local Government, London, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Back

95   Shaw, K and Humphrey, L (2003) The Engagement of Stakeholders in a Directly Elected Regional Assembly in the North East, research for the North East Assembly, Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Newcastle and Northumbria University. Back

96   TUC (2005) Report on the Northern Way growth Strategy, London, Trades Union Congress. Back

97   See for example, the revised Regional Economic Strategies for the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. Back

98   SURF (2004) Realising the national economic potential of provincial city-regions: the rationale for and implications of a "Northern Way" growth strategy, an ODPM New Horizons Study, Final Report, University of Salford, Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures. Back

99   NLGN (2005) Seeing the Light? Next Steps for City Regions, London, New Local Government Network. Back

100   Parkinson, M, Hutchins, M, Simmie, J, Clark, G and Verdonk, H (2004) Competitive European Cities: Where do the Core Cities Stand? A report to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, London. Back

101   Midgley, J, Ward, N and Atherton, J (2005) City Regions and Rural Areas in North East England, Centre for Rural Economy, University of Newcastle upon Tyne: pg 2. Back

102   CURDS (1999) Core Cities: Key Centres for Regeneration, Newcastle upon Tyne, Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies. Back

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