Memorandum by the English Regions Network
1. The English Regions Network is pleased
to submit written evidence to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
Select Committeeis there a future for regional government?
The English Regions network represents all eight English Regional
2. The ERN would welcome the opportunity
of presenting oral evidence to the Select Committee.
3. Following the outcome of the North East
referendum the Government announced that elected regional assemblies
were off the agenda for the foreseeable future. There remains,
however, a complex web of regional and subregional governance
arrangements. Common to every region there are three core bodies:
a Regional Assembly, a Government Office for the Region and a
Regional Development Agency. In addition there are a plethora
of non governmental bodies operating in each region such as Learning
and Skill Councils, the Environment Agency, English Heritage,
the Highways Agency, the list goes on.
4. ERN believes that the current regional
governance arrangements, driven as much by a quest for administrative
efficiency as a coherent policy on devolution are likely to continue
for the some time to come. This being the case, a focus on regional
governance is more pertinent than a focus on regional government.
The potential for increasing the accountability
of decision-making at the regional and sub-regional level, and
the need to simplify existing arrangements
5. Regional Assemblies, as the regional
strategic partnerships, already play a key role in ensuring decisions
taken at a regional level are accountable back to the region.
They are responsible for scrutinising
the work of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), to make sure
that delivery is in line with regional priorities and objectives;
They have robust internal governance
structures to ensure that policies developed by the Assemblies
are fully owned by the region (particularly important in the development
and submission of Regional Spatial Strategies);
They are responsible for aligning
strategies at a regional level through the development of regional
integrated strategic frameworks/integrated regional strategies
and regional sustainable development frameworks (RSDFs). The use
of these frameworks and tools by a wide-range of local and regional
agencies provides a degree of accountability back to the region.
In addition, there is a greater sense of ownership as strategies
are developed by the region for the region. Much of this work
takes place on a partnership basis.
6. Regional Assemblies are uniquely placed
to improve regional accountability and strategic alignment. No
other regional organisations have the same breadth of functions
and membership. Assemblies comprise regional, sub regional, city-region,
local and rural representatives. Nor do any other regional organisations
have governance structures that engage locally elected politicians
alongside other key partners in the way that all Assemblies currently
do. Regional Assemblies are uniquely placed to provide democratic
legitimacy for regional decision making. Whilst the exact profile
and number of Assembly Members varies from region to region in
general 70% of Members are elected local authority councillors
and 30% are social, economic and environmental partners drawn
from sectors such as business, arts and culture, education, faith
groups, community, voluntary and environmental organisations.
7. The ERN believes that a number of steps
could be taken to increase the accountability of decision-making
at the regional and sub-regional level. These include:
Confirmation by Government of
the democratic mandate of Regional Assemblies resulting from the
majority of Assembly Members being elected local councillors.
This legitimacy is enhanced and strengthened by involvement of
Expanding the scrutiny role
of regional assemblies beyond that of the RDA, and strengthening
the scrutiny powers that regional assemblies have, would lead
to better and more accountable strategies within the region which
would in turn make a greater contribution to achieving national
priorities. There are numerous non-departmental public bodies
(NDPBs) spending large sums of public money at the regional level
that are not currently accountable to the regions eg the Highways
Agency, the Environment Agency, the Learning and Skills councils.
Such bodies would be better able to deliver more effective and
more aligned strategies if supported by a clear framework of governance
and accountability. Regional assemblies are best placed to provide
this framework, building upon the expertise and skills developed
though the scrutiny role of the RDAs;
Increasing the involvement of
Regional Assemblies in the appointment of board members to the
numerous NDPBs. In the case of appointments to the Regional Development
Agency Boards, for example Assemblies, via their Government Office
are given the opportunity to comment on the draft person specification
for appointments however not on potential applicants. As well
ensuring the right skills and competencies are present there may
also be case for geographical representation on boards of NDPBs
operating at the regional level.
Accountability might be extended
by involvement of MPs and MEPs in the work of regional assemblies
and other regional bodies. With elected regional government off
the agenda Government needs to think creatively about how it will
ensure that structures are in place to support accountable decision
making at a regional level. For instance, there may be a case
for a select committee for each region, or a committee for the
regions at Westminster or an annual state of the regions debate.
Assemblies themselves would be keen to work in partnership with
government to investigate possible ways of engaging MPs/MEPs in
Assemblies are increasingly
taking on an important role as strategic co-ordinating bodies,
bringing together a range of partners to broker policy deals and
activity eg work on Regional Funding Allocations. This work is
often carried out by a "partnership" or "board"
comprising senior level representation from the key regional organisations
including the Regional Assembly, RDA and Government Office. Such
emerging governance arrangements and the regional leadership they
can provide should be recognised by Government.
8. The Government announcement to proceed
with the merger of Regional Housing Boards and Regional Planning
Bodies resulting in the transfer of responsibility for the RHB
functions moving from the Government Office to Assemblies is a
good example of existing arrangements being simplified and increased
accountability being achieved. Other options for simplifying arrangements
A commitment by government that
accountability back to the region will be a key factor in how
any new NDPBs are developed in the future.
Building on the introduction
of Regional Funding Allocations, Government should respond positively
to any future requests from regions to work more flexibly though
greater use of pooled budgets such as those developed by the Regional
Skills Partnerships, RDAs (the single pot concept) and through
Local Area Agreements. Using resources more flexibly, within the
national PSA target framework, would allow the development of
regional solutions to specific regional issues. This would ensure
that national standards were met and maintained whilst allowing
greater regional flexibility. This would mean fewer targets and
more accountability to the regions.
On the grounds of simplification
and increased accountability Government should also give full
consideration to extending the scope of the Regional Funding Allocations
to include more of the funding spent at the regional level on
transport, housing and economic development and to encompass other
areas such as skills development, including the European Social
Fund allocation. Skills policy is a key contributor to regional
economic performance and there is already close working by regional
partners to deliver better skills through Regional Skills Partnerships.
Further emphasising the roles
of integrated strategic frameworks/strategies and Regional Sustainable
Development Frameworks in aligning policy development and evidence
The potential of devolution of powers from the
regional to local level
9. Regional Assemblies are concerned with
drawing down powers from the centre not up from local government.
ERN is committed to the principle of decisions being taken at
the appropriate level. It is widely accepted that certain policy
areas need to be addressed at a cross authority level. Strategic
Planning and sustainable development, for example, can not be
confined to the local authority borders.
10. In relation to the core functions of
Regional Assemblies; ie preparation of the Regional Spatial Strategy
(RSS) including the Regional Transport Strategy, scrutiny of the
RDA, policy co-ordination at the regional level and acting as
the voice of the region, the ERN does not believe that these roles
could be devolved to the local level. It should be noted that
in case of the RSS and soon to be the case with the Regional Housing
Strategy the role of Assemblies is an advisory one and the final
decision on the content of the documents rests with the Secretary
The effectiveness of current arrangements for
managing services at various levels and their inter-relationship
11. Building upon the work at the regional
level, being led by Regional Assemblies, Regional Development
Agencies and Government Offices, to identify aligned housing,
transport and economic development spending priorities, regions
are focussing increased attention on mechanisms to achieve co-ordinated
service delivery such as multi agency delivery groups. Whilst
Regional Assemblies operate at a strategic policy level and do
not have a direct role in service provision they are concerned
with implementation and through their extensive partnership working
can do much to facilitate and encourage service delivery.
12. A substantial amount of regional working
is informed and co-ordinated at the sub regional level. All RSS
have been informed by sub regional studies whilst consideration
of sub regional housing markets underpins Regional Housing Strategies.
Sub regional working is equally embedded in Regional Development
Agencies and Government Offices working practices.
The potential for new arrangements, particularly
the establishment of city-regions
13. As noted at the outset of this submission
governance arrangements comprise a complex web of institutions
operating at the regional level.
14. The ERN recognises the increasing evidence
for, and importance of, core cities and other urban centres as
key drivers of regional and economic competitiveness. The ERN
supports city-sub regional partnership working within existing
regional structures. The Network would strongly support and encourage
the participation of city-region representatives in the Regional
Assembly in order to influence/inform the national/regional context'
for successful sub-regional development.
15. Emerging Government policy should be
clear that city-regions and Regional Assemblies are complimentary
and that there is an interdependence between them. An Assembly
is concerned with the social, economic and environmental well
being of the whole of the region whilst a city-region is concerned
with a sub regional area and not all geographical areas of a region
fall naturally into a city-region.
16. City-regions are not islands. To ensure
coherent strategic development across regions, ERN believes that
city-regions must be developed within the existing regional strategic
context and thereby conform to key regional documents including
the Regional Spatial, Transport, Economic and Housing Strategies,
the Regional Sustainable Development Framework, Integrated Regional
Strategy and Regional Funding Allocations Advice.
17. A one size fits all approach is not
appropriate and thus emerging Government policy on city-regions
needs to take account of regional variations and in doing so enable
regions to develop their own potential.
The impact which new regional and sub-regional
arrangements, such as the city-regions, might have upon peripheral
towns and cities
18. The ERN proposes that small-medium sized
cities can also be important drivers of "regional" competitiveness,
for example, in the Greater South East where London has the most
profound economic influence. This being the case it is important
that any discussion takes account of regional variations and that
the city-regions debate incorporates all regions including some
smaller and medium sized cities that do not necessarily fit with
the "core city" concept which has informed much of the
debate so far.
19. The city-region agenda raises a number
of challenges, not least for those areas that do not naturally
fall within a city-region. Building upon point16. the Government
needs to ensure that its policies address both the urban and rural
The desirability of closer inter-regional co-operation
(as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities
20. There are policy issues that are inter-regional
in scope and require a coordinated approach Where such commonality
of objectives exists there can be clear and tangible benefits
to close inter-regional co-operation to tackle economic disparities.
Examples of inter-regional co-operation include:
In the case of the Northern
Way for example key issues requiring a cross regional approach
include a Northern Airports Strategy, critical transport infrastructure
networks and science policy. In order to meet the Government's
target of closing the economic output gap between the northern
English regions and the rest of the UK there is a strong case
for policy analysis and strategy formulation for these critical
inter-regional policy issues to take place at a pan northern scale.
From the perspective of tackling
economic disparities in the South West two key areas that can
be influenced by inter-regional co-operation relate to transport
infrastructure and spatial planning. The South West has worked
closely with Wales and the South West on the Multi-Modal Study
and continues to work with across-regional boundaries on the development
of the Regional Spatial Strategy. A current priority is working
with the South East and East of England on the implications of
the construction of Crossrail on the economies of our respective
regions. Nevertheless, the SWRA considers working cross-regional
boundaries is an opportunity that regional players collectively
need to do more of.
A further example of inter-regional
working is the Milton Keynes and South Midlands growth area which
is a collaboration between the South East, East of England and
the East Midlands regional organisations including the Regional
Assemblies, Government Offices and Development Agencies to promote
the significant increase in the establishment of homes to relieve
South East and London housing pressures
In the North West region a framework
for greater cross-border co-operation and development between
North East Wales and West Cheshire has been published by a partnership
including the Regional Assembly, the Welsh Assembly Government
and Welsh Development Agency.
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.
21. Particularly so in the case of the Northern
Way, the Government has been outwardly very supportive of this
interregional initiative. The regions concerned are keen
to ensure that this support is backed up by real Government commitment
to delivering the strategy.
22. In the context of increasing global
competitiveness, it is clear that regions will need not simply
to collaborate with one another within the UK but look to solutions
to tackle economic disparities and other issues such as the environment
and transport with neighbours in Europe and beyond.
23. The regional agenda has moved on since
the outcome of the referendum on an elected regional assembly
in the North East. Regional governance arrangements continue to
evolve. For example, Regional Assemblies are preparing to assume
responsibility for Regional Housing Boards later this year and
as part of the Regional Funding Allocations process, for the first
time, a regional transport allocation has been identified. ERN
urges the Committee to take full account of this developing agenda
and to focus its attention on the ability of regional governance
arrangements to address the economic, social and environmental
wellbeing of regions.
24. ERN considers that city-regions can
be an effective mechanism for harnessing regional economic growth.
Developed within the wider regional context provided by the Regional
Spatial, Transport, Economic and Housing Strategies, the Regional
Sustainable Development Framework, Integrated Regional Strategy
and Regional Funding Allocations Advice, city-regions have the
potential to make a significant contribution to economic development
at a regional and national level.
25. The Government needs to provide clarity
on the roles and responsibilities at the regional, sub regional
and local level. The present web of strategies and working arrangements
is complex and as a consequence at times results in uncertainty
and confusion. ERN believes that further functions could appropriately
be devolved from the centre to the regional level and in particular
to Regional Assemblies given their inclusive nature and their
unique ability to bring democratic accountability to regional