Memorandum by Bolton at Home (RG 79)
There can be no argument over the case for more
devolved and transparent decision-makingit is only when
the public perceives that important decisions affecting their
future are made in secret that they start to doubt the democratic
process. The perception is as important as the actuality. Clearly
the negative publicity surrounding the proposals for an elected
regional assembly proved an insurmountable barrier hindering objective
public debate over the merits and the drawbacks of introducing
such a democratic forum.
Any new regional democratic structure needs
to be robust enough to deal with serious multi-layered issues
that may not always have easy solutions that are met with total
consensus approval. But it also needs to be transparent enough
for the public and other stakeholders to be able to access and
hold those making the choices accountable for their decisions.
Such a mix of transparency and robustness is not easy to achieve,
especially when such a model has to encompass town, city and regional
boundaries; dealing with a comprehensive holistic programme crossing
a full range of disciplines.
The usual means of introducing accountability
is for those decision-makers to have to submit themselves to an
electoral process. The elected Regional Assembly proposal is the
simplest of such democratic models but this does not have much
public support at present. It is well worth retaining as a long
term option, but for the moment a more gradual incremental approach
to achieving accountable regional government is required.
Here accountability has to be introduced not
through the ballot box but through other means, such as performance
review (with real customer involvement in the review process)
and/or through the appointment of fixed term regional officers
(seconded from the participating organisations) whose accountability
is rested on achieving a whole range of targets relating to the
effectiveness, inclusiveness, and openness of decision-making.
There is always merit in simplifying thingsalready
such rationalisation is happening with the amalgamation of regional
housing and planning boards proposed for later in the year. However,
concern needs to be expressed that simplification is not seen
as the predominant dynamic within the region and sub-region. A
fully comprehensive approach to regional working that involves
and/or engages all key stakeholders and the public does not easily
fit into a simple formulathe more inclusive the democratic
model then the greater the difficulty in making things simple.
Clearly, for a robust enough model to emerge there will be inevitable
trade-offs between the desire for simplicity and the need for
Bolton is committed to providing locally based
services and, wherever possible, delegating decision-making to
local forums. In this we are very much in tune with the latest
government pronouncements on devolution of powers to the local
level. The case for giving local people real choices with direct
access to making decisions about issues that affect their lives
and their communities would be difficult to challenge. Also, it
would provide greater opportunity for a more "bottom-up"
approach to strategy development.
Some may argue that generally people are largely
apathetic and disassociated with the democratic processes that
shape their lives. Very often low voting percentages in national
and local elections are quoted as concrete evidence of this propensity.
Under such a view the devolution of powers to a local level would
simply introduce an additional tier of decision-making that would
have little public support or engagement. At root this view is
synonymous with saying that people prefer things to be done for
them or decisions to be taken on their behalf; at heart a deeply
paternalistic take on society.
Contrary to this, Bolton believes that it is
the very lack of robust and accessible local democratic frameworks
for decision-making that fosters low expectation and disassociation.
Our view is that real powers should be devolved to local levels;
so long as these are exercised through sturdy democratic frameworks
that are transparent, representative and are not isolated from
the wider local, sub-regional and regional context. We contend
that citizens can and do act as mature and knowledgeable contributors
to improving their lives and the lives of their community, by
making sensible decisions based on context and on experience.
Further, that the more an individual is exposed to such democratic
processes the better and the more willing they are to engage more
fully with issues that effect their own lives and the general
welfare of the community they live in.
Evidence of this in Bolton would be our success
in engaging communities through our local neighbourhood strategy,
a range of strategic partnerships, and in sharing real power with
our customers. An example of the latter is the high proportion
of residents who operate within the governing structure of Bolton
at Home, Bolton's ALMO.
It should not be presumed that devolution from
regional to local level would not be challenging. Community engagement
in real decision making has not got a long history so there is
a confidence deficit to make up and a degree of capacity building
required. Also, a move from "top-down" to "bottom
down" approaches can cause Elected Members, officers, and
others considerable anxiety as power shifts can cause seismic
disturbances disrupting existing patterns of work and quality
of engagement. In Bolton we feel we are well down this road and
welcome the potential for even greater devolution of powers.
Bolton is a strong supporter of the City Region
concept and is very active in helping to deliver the Greater Manchester
City Region's programme aimed at eradicating the economic gap
that has opened up between the north and the rest of England.
The idea of operating as a single collaborative
unit around Manchester, the major city in our area, is very attractive;
not least in that our single voice is magnified within such a
structure. By establishing common and mutually supportive goals
across a range of economic drivers involving a spectrum of stakeholders,
we are able to build capacity and sharply focus activity so as
to make a serious attempt at growing our economic base.
The alternativeindividual authorities
concentrating largely on their own turf having a loose convergence
on issues of mutual interest on an ad hoc basishas long
been abandoned in our sub-region as insufficient to meet the demands
of the modern sophisticated multi-layered markets in which we
We believe that the City Region will be the
most successful potential conduit for:
Promoting better economic competitiveness
and raising productivity levels.
Achieving sufficient capacity
to operate within a European and global market.
Developing a strategic overview
that links spatial planning, transport, and housing to achieving
agreed economic outputs.
Researching different markets
(across boundaries) and understanding better their relationship.
Supporting big flagship initiatives,
such as the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders.
Joining things up at different
levels and across different boundariesaround a range of
The biggest challenges to the City Region (other
than delivering its economic programmes) are making them transparent
and accessible enough to secure general public acceptance, value
and involvement. In addition the differences of opinion, inevitable
within such a confederation, need to be resolved in a manner conducive
to the best practice in fairness and reasonableness; within a
general atmosphere of trust and respect.
Also some consideration needs to be taken over
establishing protocols when City Regions "rub up" against
each other within the competitive nature of the economic marketplace.
In particular here is the need to consider impacts on the national
economy and the UK's relationship to the global market.
Finally, the establishment of City Regions should
not be an excuse for cost cutting and starving the region of national
funds. Some of the rationalisation created as a dynamic of forming
a City region may result in savings due to eradicating waste and
duplication; but this should not overshadow the need for resourcing
support to enable ambitious programmes to prosper. Greater efficiencies
in line with Gershon recommendations should be an achievable long
term outcome but resources are needed now to ensure that the City
Region establishes deep roots at a local level in the manner previously
Happily, at regional and sub-regional levels,
those working in housing already act collaboratively with great
effectivenessso there is a growing expertise in developing
and delivering policy that cuts across boundaries in order to
meet the wider aims and objectives of the North West.
The presumption here is that the question is
about those areas not included in a City Region rather than those,
like Bolton, who are in the City Region and are benefiting but
lie outside the actual lead city.
City Regions are based upon those locations
that have the strongest, or potentially the strongest, economies.
The assumption is that as these are the main economic drivers
within a locality, their growth will favourably impact on a much
wider catchment area. This is an assumption; the counter argument
is that the growth of the centre could act to exacerbate decline
on the periphery. However, the rationale behind City Regions is
to increase total inward investment and to grow economic base
to meet new demand; not to make other areas weaker. Therefore,
growth in any City Region should add to the overall national productivity
indicator rather than redistribute economic advantage from the
Also, such towns and cities are designated as
"peripheral" for a reason. They do not meet the potential
critical mass for significant economic growth, so that any internal
growth would be less likely to significantly "leach out"
to a wider area. This is not to say that falling outside a City
Region is a ticket to oblivion. Rather the specific needs of towns
and cities outside the City Region, where acute, would still need
public investment to support regeneration and reverse decline.
Therefore, the City Region would not expect to soak up all the
investment entering the wider region; rather it is more about
establishing the best strategy to maximise the impact of investment.
The northern situation is unique in that the
economic disparity between the region and the rest of the country
is so great that the Northern Way is an absolute necessity. The
case for the rest of the country is less strongweaker still
within those regions where relative and growing economic strength
is a feature. In these areas closer-regional co-operation may
be desirable but certainly not essential.