Memorandum by Dorset County Council's
Cabinet (RG 80)
1.1 There should be as few layers of government
1.2 The establishment of sub-national/regional
government should take account of all the following criteria:
(a) regional government should be established
only where it would have a clear role that would add value in
terms of subsidiarity, accountability and efficiency;
(b) the establishment of any regional government
should be considered together with the review of local government;
(c) the boundaries of regions should be defined
having regard to economic and social geography, history and culture.
1.3 Dorset County Council's Cabinet considers
that a system of county-sized unitary authorities would best meet
these criteria rather than an additional layer of sub-national
government at regional level.
1.4 We see no potential for increasing accountability
at the regional level. Reducing the role of the regional layer
would assist in this respect and help simplify existing arrangements.
1.5 We strongly urge a return to local authorities
of powers that have been removed from them to regional level,
particularly in relation to strategic land use and transportation
planning and housing.
1.6 We consider current regional arrangements
ineffective in managing services and would again press for these
to be the responsibility of new large unitary authorities.
1.7 We support co-operation between areas
with common interestscurrent regional boundaries create
artificial boundaries that have no place in reality. We also support
a consistent and complimentary policy approach between regions.
2.1 Dorset County Council's Cabinet welcomes
the opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee on the Office
of the Deputy Prime Minister regarding the future of regional
2.2 In drawing up its evidence, we have
assumed that the Committee is prepared to consider from first
principles whether regional government is appropriate and desirable,
rather than starting from the premise that the current regional
arrangements will continue and evolve.
3. CRITERIA FOR
3.1 We believe that there should be as few
layers of government as possible. The more layers there are, the
more expensive governance becomes and the more need there is for
3.2 We believe that the consideration of
the establishment of regional government must take account of
the following three criteria.
Criterion 1: Regional government should be established
only where it would have a clear role that would add value in
terms of subsidiarity, local accountability and efficiency
3.3 Role: We believe that any regional
entity might play a useful role by:
coordinating and promoting the
interests of the area to central Government;
agreeing strategic objectives
for the region; and
achieving the sustainable development
of the region.
However, should local government be reorganised,
with the creation of unitary authorities, county-sized unitaries
would be more appropriate to achieve these objectives, particularly
taking account of the other criteria below. Where considerations
covering wider areas are appropriate, this should be achieved
through partnership working.
3.4 Subsidiarity: we would support
the devolution of powers from central to regional level, if the
exercising of those powers met the criteria of greater local accountability
and efficiency. The Council would strongly resist the drawing
up of local authority powers to the regional level, unless it
could be demonstrated that the regional level was able to act
more strategically and efficiently, while retaining the degree
of accountability currently exercised by local government.
3.5 Local accountability: We strongly
support local accountability, and any regional entity should be
accountable to those elected locally. Both the Government and
the main opposition party are currently emphasising the need to
base governance on as local a level as possible. The larger the
unit of government, the more remote the decision-making processes
become. Our experience is that many people feel regions to be
too remote. The result is disempowerment rather than empowerment.
3.6 Efficiency: larger units of government
may be able to achieve economies of scale and provide services
more efficiently. However, at the same time, lack of local connectivity
and increased bureaucracy may counterbalance these potential efficiencies.
Further, if regional government is introduced as an additional
layer of government, it is difficult to see how it will reduce
overall costs to the public purse.
Criterion 2: The establishment of any regional
government should be considered together with the review of local
3.7 The Government is currently reviewing
the role and financing of local government. It has also indicated
that it may consider the further restructuring of local government.
These considerations should be considered together with the future
of regional government, so that a coherent and consistent form
of sub-national government is established. Unfortunately, previous
attempts at local government reorganisation have resulted in a
confusing local government system in England. Further, the current
regional arrangements do not sit comfortably with the current
structure of local government. It is time the situation was resolved.
Criterion 3: The boundaries of regions should
be defined having regard to economic and social geography, history
3.8 The consultation seems premised on using
the current Government office areas for regional governance. We
suggest that this is not the best way forward.
3.9 Areas need to be of sufficient size
to be able to promote themselves and to gain recognition of their
needs in competition with the needs of others. This requires a
minimum level of population and resources.
3.10 However, the viability of any regional
governance depends on whether the regions being used actually
have any basis and meaning. The current regions are based on the
convenient administrative arrangements for Government Office areas,
but do not reflect the local realities of identity, patterns of
movement, economic geography or any of the other criteria commonly
used to determine sensible boundaries.
3.11 Reviewing these criteria, we do not
believe that sub-national government at the scale of regions as
currently defined would be the best way forward. County-sized
unitaries would offer a better alternative. They would have the
they would be sufficiently large
to be able to coordinate and promote the interests of their areas
to central Government, and to accept devolved responsibilities
from central Government;
they would be sufficiently small
to establish commonly owned objectives for their areas and to
be locally accountable, offering local people real influence on
decision-making and capable of relating to local community arrangements;
they would have the strategic
capacity to deliver the sustainable development of their areas;
they would be able to use economies
of scale without being remote from local intelligence and without
introducing additional bureaucracy;
they would be a single tier
of sub-national government, be established in the (possible) next
round of local government reorganisation and result in a coherent
and consistent pattern of sub-national government;
their boundaries could be defined
by meaningful geographies, not necessarily based on existing local
3.12 Where considerations covering wider
areas were needed, these could be dealt with through partnership
arrangements with neighbouring authorities.
3.13 Whatever arrangements come into place,
it is essential that the powers and responsibilities of sub-national
government should be clearly defined. These need to be enshrined
in legislation so that powers cannot be arbitrarily removed from
local areas as they have been in the past.
Specific Issues Raised by the ODPM Parliamentary
4. THE POTENTIAL
4.1 Current regional assemblies/chambers
add little to democratic accountability. The time that local authority
members of the Assembly are able to devote to Assembly meetings
is understandably limited, particularly taking account of existing
duties and the long travel distances to Assembly meetings. Further,
because of distance, they do not enjoy the day-to-day relationships
with Assembly officers that exist in local authorities. Their
influence is therefore much more limited. This means that Regional
Assembly officers enjoy far greater freedom in developing policy
than they would at national or local levels. They appear to be
unduly influenced by Government Office and the Regional Development
Agency, neither of which are accountable locally, and do not give
sufficient weight to the views of local authorities and representatives
of local organisations and interests. Further, consultation events
are stage-managed, and cannot be viewed as real engagement.
4.2 Nevertheless, given the significance
and implications of decisions that are made at regional level,
local authority members and officers do spend considerable amounts
of time attending meetings. These events offer little added value
to what has already been done at local level. Indeed, much of
their time is spent heading off decisions that could cause significant
4.3 The solution, as suggested above, is
to scrap regional bodies, create unitary authorities and enhance
the power of more local forms of governance through making these
of a sufficiently large size to be able to carry out the functions
currently undertaken at regional level. Also, as suggested above,
unitary councils should be free to join together where they feel
that certain areas of work can be done more effectively on a larger
4.4 We believe that the existing and proposed
regionalization of fire and police services serve to complicate,
rather than simplify, the means and accountability of delivery
at the local level.
4.5 Using the proposed system of unitary
authorities, it would be clearer where responsibilities lay and
who was accountable. The system would be much simpler and a lot
cheaper both in terms of absolute cost and the cost of time and
money spent by local councils in taking part in unnecessary meetings
with no added value.
5. THE POTENTIAL
5.1 There are a plethora of regional bodies
or bodies with a regional structure. Their responsibilities include
strategic land use and transportation planning (regional planning
bodies), economic development (regional development agencies),
housing (regional housing bodies), tourism, sustainable development,
culture, education and health. Government offices enforce Government
policy in the regions and administer some funding streams, particularly
in relation to economic development and European funds.
5.2 In recent years has been a proliferation
of regional activity. Some of this activityparticularly
that seeking to integrate strategic direction and investmenthas
been admirable. However, some has been wasteful and/or drawn powers
away from the local level. Substantial energy and resources have
been devoted to the development of regional strategies, but many
of these are at a level of generality to have little meaning locally
or in terms of service delivery. It is doubtful whether the cost
of this activity is justified.
5.3 A recent symposium of local authority
chief executives in the South West, convened on behalf of the
ODPM, identified a worrying proliferation of regional bodies.
Focussed consultation with the chief executives indicated that
there was no effective co-ordination between agencies, a lack
of information on what each did and a lack of ability to influence
agencies' policies, activities and outputs. A project has been
established to try to improve the situation.
5.4 The loss of responsibilities from local
authorities in relation to strategic planning, transportation
and housing to the regional level has so far proved far from beneficial.
Further comment on this is provided in the section below on "the
effectiveness of current arrangements". We believe responsibilities
for these activities should be restored to the proposed county-sized
unitary local authorities described earlier. Among the other advantages
of this course of action would be the re-establishment of local
accountability and the empowerment of local people.
6. THE EFFECTIVENESS
6.1 We have severe misgivings about the
current regional governance arrangements. In our experience, the
drawn away powers from local
authorities (particularly with regard to strategic planning, transportation
distanced people from decision-makers,
rather than improved accountability;
imposed additional resource
requirements and costs (funding, member and officer time, bureaucracy);
added to the complexity of the
administration of funding streams;
been based on artificial areas
that have no basis in the real world.
6.2 The Council has invested significant
amounts of member and officer time in assisting the Assembly in
its duties. However, much of this time is devoted to educating
Assembly officers and members from other parts of the region about
local areas and the policy history of those areas. Because of
the size and nature of the region and the constituency of the
Assembly (with many competing geographical and sectoral interests),
it is difficult to influence decisions to the benefit of local
6.3 A study carried out in 2003 of the experience
of Dorset County Council officers and members of regional bodies
showed that many issues were being addressed at regional level
which were already being fully addressed at local level. The added
value of regional work was unclear. The time spent in meetings
was substantial and to this had to be added the time to respond
to consultations (responses which in many cases were completely
ignored), make bids for funding and maintain regional contacts.
There were particular issues with economic development and spatial
planning. It was difficult to influence the Regional Development
Agency and the Regional Assembly.
6.4 The experience in developing the Regional
Spatial Strategy for the South West has shown that there is little
local accountability and reflection of local interests. There
has been little opportunity for local consultation. This reflects
not only the difficulty of holding effective engagement in such
a large area, but the unrealistic timetables developed by the
ODPM for the production of Regional Spatial Strategies. The Council
has received unfavourable comment from the public on the lack
of opportunity for engagement.
6.5 There remains considerable complexity
with regard to funding streams. The Haskins Report highlighted
the complexity of funding from Defra, and Dorset County Council
has been pleased to be a pilot Rural Pathfinder authority. Its
work in this respect has highlighted that the streamlining of
funding from one Government department is only a start, and that
other funding streams are needed to fully address common objectives.
The simplification and local ownership of these streams is critical
to effective delivery and local accountability.
6.6 The South West does not meet the criteria
outlined earlier for meaningful sub-national governance. It has
no coherence and no commonality of interests. There is no joint
cultural heritage. There are no common patterns of activity. Indeed,
its landside boundaries cut across such areas, and ignore the
reality of the linkages that exist. The regional work on spatial
planning and the economy, for example, does not properly recognise
the links between the Bournemouth/Poole conurbation and South
Hampshire/the South East.
6.7 The current multi-layered system adds
complexity, confusion, duplication and cost to what, with fewer
layers of governance, could be simple, efficient, effective and
7. THE POTENTIAL
7.1 We would not support a system of regional,
city region and local government. The aim should be to provide
a single tier of sub-national governance, whether to govern cities
or other areas. As outlined earlier, we suggest that what is needed
is a new level of more strategic unitary councils with the freedom
to work together jointly where this provides added value. The
new authorities would have responsibility for public services
in their areas and the resources and powers now held by regional
bodies. This system, in effect, would provide regional as well
as local governance and the enhanced powers would mean greater
devolution to below national level had been achieved.
7.2 Unitary authorities should be based
on County or city identities and with a sufficient population,
eg a minimum 400,000 to 500,000 people, to undertake strategic
and promotional roles and provide leadership. We would want to
take a progressive view of these arrangements, in order that the
new unitary system was fit for purpose in the twenty-first century.
7.3 A new system to ensure that sufficient
resources were available to carry out the full role of the authority
would then be needed. More financial freedoms to work with developers,
borrow money, etc are needed. Dorset was a pilot area for Local
Area Agreements and the Defra Rural Pathfinder. It is too early
to report with certainty the advantages of these approaches, but
they are expected to deliver improved local delivery, pooled based
area funding for combined national and local priorities, improved
performance management, local accountability and joined up service
8. THE IMPACT
8.1 We reiterate that we would not support
a system of regional, city region and local government, but we
promote a single tier of sub-national governance.
8.2 The impact of unitary city government
on peripheral towns and cities, and, indeed, other rural areas
will depend on the selection and definition of boundaries. We
recognise the merits of planning for cities and their hinterlands
as economic and social entities. Indeed, prior to the last round
of local government reorganisation, Dorset County Council was
responsible for the strategic planning and economic development
of the second largest conurbation in the South West (Bournemouth/Poole/Christchurchpopulation
over 400,000). We therefore speak from experience. We also recognise
calls for such areas to be granted more control over the resources
needed to secure their potential.
8.3 Current proposals which appear to focus
on the Core Cities are incompatible with our proposals. We would
support the New Local Government Network suggestion that smaller
urban areas should also be treated in the same way, as should
other unitary authorities.
9. THE DESIRABILITY
9.1 Local areas need to have the freedom
to decide where they want to work jointly with adjacent authorities
rather than being constrained by the boundaries of artificially
created regions. As an example, in some areas of work, Dorset,
particularly the eastern part of the county, with Bournemouth
and Poole, works more logically with the South East and a new
system of governance as suggested here would allow and facilitate
9.2 In its strategic planning and economic
development work, the County Council has for many years encouraged
a more coherent approach to cross-border working. Government offices
appear reluctant to pursue complementary cross-border and inter-regional
agendas. The Council has been disappointed that for many years
the approach to regional planning in the South East has been out
of step with the approach in the South West.