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


Memorandum by the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly (RG 83)

BACKGROUND

  1.  Around five million people live in the Yorkshire and Humber region. As well as thriving towns and cities, it has more National Park land, historic houses and castles than any other region, and boasts spectacular scenery and a Heritage coastline. It's also one of Europe's fastest growing regions, and home to more than a quarter of a million companies, many of them from overseas. Our economy ranks amongst the top third in the world.

  2.  The Yorkshire and Humber Assembly is the region's strategic partnership working to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives and works here. Our core functions include regional planning and transport, scrutiny of the Regional Development Agency, Strategic Alignment and Sustainable Development.

  3.  The Assembly has representatives from local government, business, public sector agencies, education and training bodies, trade unions and the voluntary and community sector. This broad based membership ensures that regional agencies and bodies are accountable and responsive to the needs of the region. By combining our experience and knowledge and working together, we achieve more and get things done faster.

THE POTENTIAL FOR INCREASING THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF DECISION-MAKING AT THE REGIONAL AND SUB-REGIONAL LEVEL, AND THE NEED TO SIMPLIFY EXISTING ARRANGEMENTS

  4.  In the absence of directly elected regional government there are no formal accountability mechanisms in place at regional level. The alternative "informal" arrangements are exercised through the representative assemblies known in all English regions as Regional Assemblies.

  5.  In Yorkshire and Humber we ensure regional accountability in the following ways:

    —    As the regional strategic partnership -the combination of local government providing the democratically accountable voice (60% of members) alongside that of partners (40% of members) ensures that decisions taken at a regional level are shaped by views within the region and are accountable back to the region.

    —    Through formal scrutiny of the work of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), and delivery of the Regional Economic Strategy. In this region, eight scrutiny reviews have been completed looking at issues ranging from business start-ups to the role of cities, and skills. Each review is accompanied by an action plan to be implemented within 12 months of publication—ensuring tangible results that add real value.

    —    Ensuring robust internal governance structures so that policies developed by the Assembly are fully owned by the region (particularly important in the development and submission of our Regional Spatial Strategy);

    —    By working with partners to align regional strategies within the framework of our Integrated Regional Strategy—Advancing Together. This describes our vision and long-term objectives for the region. Progress is monitored against a suite of 32 high-level regional indicators and reported to the region each year in the Progress in the Region report produced by our regional observatory Yorkshire Futures.

    —    By ensuring our actions are sustainable in the long-term. We provide guidance and appraisal mechanisms in our regional sustainable development framework (RSDF). This is widely used at all levels in the region and ensures that all plans have consistent and complementary actions (particularly aligning economic development, housing, planning and transport) that together move us towards achieving the long-term vision set out in Advancing Together.

  6.  Although these arrangements have worked well we have also been looking ahead to see if our accountability and decision making processes are still appropriate given the changing regional agenda. This work has taken place in the context of two challenges. One from government[105] and the other from the region itself. As a result, a fundamental review of the Assembly has sought to clarify our purpose, functions and working process.

  7.  As part of this process, in November 2005 the Assembly hosted a regional governance symposium, chaired by Peter Hetherington. This event brought together the key players in the region to consider our future governance arrangements. A full report of the day, including a range of specially produced background papers can be found at http://www.yhassembly.gov.uk/index.cfm?routine=content&channel =Library&contentid=839.

  8.  In summary this event concluded that the Assembly continued to have an important and unique role in ensuring regional accountability and strategic alignment. In particular we:

    —    reconfirmed our commitment to the continued value of regional partnership working;

    —    agreed that in the absence of elected assemblies democratic accountability for regional decisions can only come from the active involvement of local authorities in regional decision making; and

    —    that the strength of the existing Assembly is a consequence of combining local authority and partner (social, economic and environmental) engagement.

  9.  As a result the Assembly is introducing revised and simplified governance arrangements. These retain the existing broad based assembly and include a renewed regional executive board that has representatives from Government Office and the Regional Development Agency as observers. The regional executive board will be the focus for regional co-ordiantion and alignment. Functional boards for housing, transport and planning will work alongside the RDA board to ensure that these key areas of activity are effectively joined up. A sustainable development board and a standing scrutiny board will provide robust challenge within the system. A full report setting out our renewed governance arrangements can be found at http://www.yhassembly.gov.uk/index.cfm?routine=content&channel=YHA%20eetings&contentid=865.

  10.  Despite this progress we are clear that there are a number of further steps that could be taken which would help increase the accountability of decision-making at the regional and sub-regional level. These include:

    —    Expanding and strengthening the scrutiny role of the Assembly to enable oversight of the full range of regional activity ensuring better and more accountable strategies in the region which would in turn make a greater contribution to achieving national priorities.

    —    Greater involvement by the Assembly in the appointment of board members to NDPBs operating in the region.

    —    More involvement of MPs and MEPs in the work of the Assembly and the region. 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. The Yorkshire and Humber Assembly would be keen to work in partnership with government to investigate possible ways of engaging MPs/MEPs in future work.

    —    Recognition from Government of the important leadership role played by regional strategic boards. In this region that Assembly has chaired the Regional Co-ordination Board that has prepared advice to government on Regional Funding Allocations. This regional board includes senior level representatives from Government Office and Yorkshire Forward and will provide the basis for our new strengthened regional executive board (see para 9 above).

  11.  The Government announcement to proceed with the merger of Regional Housing Boards and Regional Planning Bodies is a good example of existing arrangements being simplified and increased accountability being achieved.

  12.  Another possibility for simplifying arrangements relates to recent work on 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, resulting in fewer targets and more accountability to the regions.

  13. On the grounds of simplification and increased accountability Government should also give full consideration to extending the scope of the Regional Funding Allocations to encompass funding for skills development. 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.

POTENTIAL FOR DEVOLUTION OF POWERS FROM REGIONAL TO LOCAL LEVEL

  14.  The Yorkshire and Humber Assembly is committed to the principle of subsidiarity, ensuring that decisions are taken at the most appropriate level. The current functions of the Assembly are those that are best dealt with at the regional level. (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). It should be noted however that the Assembly is not a service delivery body. Our role is to provide a strategic overview of regional activity, to develop strategic frameworks for action, to support policy development and to ensure outcomes are monitored and progress reported to the region.

  15.  Delivery is invariably through local level agencies, primarily local authorities. Because these bodies are members of the Assembly we are uniquely placed to ensure effective co-ordination between strategy and delivery.

EFFECTIVENESS OF CURRENT ARRANGEMENTS FOR MANAGING SERVICES

  16.  In addition to our strong links with local delivery we are also working closely with a range of sub regional delivery partnerships. These include sub-regional investment planning (economic development) bodies, sub regional housing partnerships, the housing market renewal pathfinders and local authority sub regional groupings.

  17.  An example of how these arrangements ensure proper management and tracking of service delivery can be seen in the way that we now monitor our regional progress. Each of our four sub regions independently produce their own Progress in the Sub Region report. These follow the same format as the regional report and include measurement of progress using a common set of indicators based around our six regional objectives. Progress is then judged against how well our services collectively deliver overall regional objectives.

POTENTIAL FOR NEW ARRANGEMENTS, PARTICULARLY THE ESTABLISHMENT OF CITY REGIONS

  18.  Many Assembly members have been closely involved in the development of the city region agenda although there are still different views about the role of city regions as economic "drivers". For many however, the city regions are considered an effective and useful unit for economic planning and we have expressed a willingness and commitment to work collaboratively at this level for the economic benefit of all the regions communities.

  19.  In recognition of this, as part of our new governance structures we will be including a representative from each of our three city regions alongside our existing sub regional representatives on the renewed regional executive board. This will ensure that all existing and emerging bodies in the region can play their full part in regional activity. We would now like to see emerging Government policy acknowledge that cities and regions are complimentary and mutually supportive

THE IMPACT THESE ARRANGEMENTS MAY HAVE ON PERIPHERAL TOWNS AND CITIES

  20.  The Assembly has made it clear that the application of the city region concept must not be carried forward at the expense of smaller towns and rural areas. It is important that any strategy to grow the region benefits the whole of Yorkshire and Humber. The needs of those extensive areas that lie outside city regions (and also the rural and peripheral areas that lie within them) must not suffer because economic development priorities are developed with too narrow a focus on larger cities.

DESIRABILITY OF CLOSER INTER-REGIONAL CO-OPERATION TO TACKLE ECONOMIC DISPARITIES

  21.  The Assembly has welcomed the northern Way initiative and supports its ambition to tackle the £30 billion economic gap between the three northern regions and the rest of England. In the long term if we are to have any real prospect of closing the economic gap between north and south we must develop a genuinely pan regionally approach that focuses on long-term investment on selected strategic projects (eg transport and infrastructure) that support the growth of Yorkshire and Humber as a whole. We look forward to working through the Northern Way to develop future plans for step-change projects backed by the necessary levels of investment.







105   Letter from David Miliband MP to Cllr David Smith, Chair English Regions Network 18 November 2005. Back


 
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