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
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. REGIONAL GOVERNANCE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 HorizonsThe 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
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
3.7 A recent study has shed light on stakeholder
engagement as part of local government modernisation.
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
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.
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. CITY REGIONS
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.
City Regions are identified as major vehicles for delivering Regional
Economic Strategies in England.
Development strategies seeking to reduce disparities between the
English regions are encouraged to draw greater attention to the
regional roles of City Regions.
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.
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.
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)".
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
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.
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