Devolution: A Decade On - Justice Committee Contents


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Campaign for the English Regions

INTRODUCTION

  As we have indicated in our previous evidence to the Committee, it is the view of the Campaign for the English Regions that the only long term solution to the dilemmas posed by the English Question lies in the introduction of elected regional government across England as part of a comprehensive constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom as a whole. In our previous evidence we suggested that an English Parliament would be a far too powerful devolved political institution which would not resolve the present asymmetric problem but rather, would add a new and more serious problem to an already flawed devolution project. The issue of the West Lothian Question cannot be resolved in isolation from this wider range of issues.

  Turning to the more immediate regional context, our previous submission to the Committee sought to address some of the shortcomings of the existing regional arrangements. We set out in our evidence a "regional partnership" model which built on the strengths of the prevailing tripartite (Government Office, Regional Development Agency, Regional Assembly) system and also proposed changes which addressed the concerns set out in the Audit Commission (2006) and Department of Communities and Local Government Select Committee (2007) reviews of these regional governance arrangements. Our proposal would have avoided the costs of wholesale reorganisation of the kind now taking place arising from the SNR and the loss of organisational capacity within and between regional institutions which has built up over the past ten years. It would also have avoided the weakening of regional stakeholder participation in regional decision making as well as a process of centralisation which has enhanced the control of Whitehall over English regional affairs.

  To strengthen the democratic element of the existing tripartite system we suggested to this Committee the establishment of a Regional Board which in addition to including Chief Executives and Chairmen of key regional bodies (eg relevant quangos, Local Government Association, Regional Development Agency) also involved regional stakeholders and some combination of elected representatives viz MPs, MEPs and regional members of a revised House of Lords. An executive body would have been appointed by the Regional Board to oversee the preparation and implementation of an Integrated Regional Strategy. Our evidence to the Committee was submitted before the Sub National Review (SNR)[1] was published. Against the background of the proposals contained within the SNR and the subsequent consultation document Prosperous Places[2] we set out our views about the direction these proposals are taking regional decision making. In particular we are concerned about the loss of regional stakeholder representation (eg private, voluntary, environmental, faith communities) arising from the removal of Regional Assemblies.

  We are disappointed about the way in which the evidence from some of the reviews of regional governance (eg Audit Commission [2006],[3] and Communities and Local Government Select Committee [2007])[4] were interpreted in regard to the work of Regional Assemblies, and which in turn influenced the conclusions set out in the Sub National Review. Unfortunately more comprehensive and detailed evidence concerning the activities of Regional Assemblies, undertaken by Warwick University in partnership with the English Regions Network and funded by DCLG was barely drawn upon. (ERN-Warwick 2002-05.)[5]

  In the following sections we focus on the immediate future and in particular issues surrounding the introduction of the SNR proposals as elaborated in the consultation document Prosperous Places.

INTER-REGIONAL IMBALANCES AND THE NEED FOR A UK WIDE REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND POLITICAL PROCESS

  The Ministerial Foreword to Prosperous Places does not espouse any form of national regional policy. At a broad level we do not believe that the increasing imbalance between London and the South East and the less prosperous regions of the UK can be tackled solely by "within region" measures such as Regional Development Agencies or an enabling environment for business at a national level. We acknowledge it is important to address areas of economic and social difficulty within the southern regions of the country (eg parts of inner London and the Medway towns) but the need for such intra regional targeted measures does not preclude national inter regional policy designed to address geographical imbalances between the Nations and Regions of the UK. It is our view that such a policy designed to refocus some growth away from the congested South would serve to reduce inflationary pressures at a national level by addressing shortages of labour and housing, alongside transport congestion and other pressures on infrastructure.(Massey et al 2003)[6] In taking forward this approach, there would be an opportunity to give greater emphasis to regional self sufficiency and the development of more sustainable communities. These issues have been highlighted in the draft Spatial Strategy documents particularly in respect of accommodating revised housing targets and making available adequate public investment for new growth areas. In this context there has also been some recognition of the need to address new regional challenges surrounding climate change, energy and food insecurity. A "revised" regional agenda of the kind we are proposing would present the opportunity to develop more sustainable low carbon energy economies and greater regional self sufficiency in the production and consumption of energy and food emphasising the interdependence of the urban and the rural. (CPRE, Friends of the Earth et al 2008.)[7]

  We are aware that the perspective of the present government is that in a world of global investment, an explicit inter regional approach, would be both impractical and counterproductive. However, the UK has one of the most prosperous economies in the world, offers major market opportunities and a stable business climate for geographically mobile international business. An added attraction is the opportunity to work with World Class Universities, the associated R and D, technology transfer and a highly skilled and educated workforce. The UK's technological capability also presents the opportunity of developing new forms of energy efficient products, processes and services not just in the over heated South, but also in other part of the UK which are equally endowed with World Class higher education and advanced technology.

  Unfortunately, present government attitudes towards a UK wide regional policy are inhibiting the growth potential of the regions (Gilbert, 2008.)[8] By way of illustration, the recent decision by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to cancel a major research project at the Daresbury Science Campus in Cheshire, involving the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester (the second time in seven years) has reignited concerns about the concentration of public funds in the South of England. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that around 50% of government research spending and 45% of funding for R & D in Universities is focused in London and the South East. In April 2008, a report from the Universities Science and Skills Select Committee suggested the SRFC should take into account the regional dimension as one important consideration when allocating research funding. It stated, "This factor could justifiably be considered in decisions on where large scale science facilities are sited, rather than automatically awarding new projects to locations within the `Golden Triangle'." The Committee argued that the government should address a regional science policy as a matter of urgency.

  We do not take the view that a more proactive approach to regional development, would serve as a disincentive to the attraction of high quality business or service industry jobs nor would necessarily fall foul of European legislation. The government's commitment to the development of city regions, enhanced research and development, and skills led policies by RDAs needs to be paralleled by an approach which addresses the imbalance in the economic geography of the UK as a whole. This would entail central government shifting the balance of public and private sector investment to less developed parts of the UK, taking advantage of the geographical flexibility offered by telecommunications and information technology, and the continuing pressures for decentralisation in both public and private sectors.

  While the RDAs are engaged in attracting mobile companies this form of competitive regional policy is not always successfully co-ordinated within and between the Nations and Regions of the UK as is also the case with cross border planning of major public infrastructure. To develop inter regional policies in a devolved UK, we believe there needs to be a forum bringing together the leaders of the Nations and Regions. The forum would prepare and oversee a concordat addressing regional development issues and national spatial priorities for the economy, sustainable development, and land use planning. It would be responsible for cross border issues such as migration, transport, major investment opportunities, telecommunications developments and links with the EU's Spatial Planning Framework

LEADERSHIP IN THE DELIVERY OF THE SNR

  Turning to the implementation of the SNR proposals, we welcome the recognition that the balance of skills and background of RDA Board Members and staff will need to change in the light of the new responsibilities. We would argue that the dominance of private sector Board members has in some respects been a weakness of the system to date. The private sector perspective is very important in key areas of the work of RDAs, however, private sector management is distinctively different in certain critical aspects from that in the public realm particularly at regional level. These distinctive management characteristics include understanding how to balance complex, multi-faceted and sometimes "wicked" issues (the bread and butter of regional working) whilst at the same time recognising the importance of a consensual style of policy making in a multi agency context. Such management challenges have to take place against the background of the expectation of a high level of transparency and public accountability. This is a form of decision making which is unfamiliar to many businessmen and invariably by the time they have gained the necessary background and experience, their three year RDA Board tenure is over. (Robinson 2004.)[9] Given the significant changes in the role of the RDAs under the SNR, we take the view that there should be a change in the balance of Board representation with more elected members and those with direct experience of regional development, the voluntary, community, not for profit sectors, planning, transport and the environment.

  The decision to transfer the strategic planning process to the RDA raises the spectre of a clash between a growth led philosophy on the one hand, and one which gives greater focus to sustainable development. This tension was previously mediated in inter agency working but has now been subsumed into a single organisation. There are many within local government and amongst other stakeholders who fear that a narrow business led philosophy will continue to dominate the RDA, notwithstanding changes in Board membership. There is a clear challenge for the Regional Leaders Forum to ensure socio economic, environmental, cultural and community dimensions of regional development do not take second place to a narrowly defined conception of regional development.

  In preparing and implementing the Single Regional Strategy (SRS), the consultation document acknowledges its scope will need to range beyond economic, planning, housing and transport considerations. The experience of Regional Assemblies when preparing their Integrated Regional Strategies was that most areas of public policy had a regional impact (Mawson and Snape 2005).[10] However, it is one thing producing regional strategies which encompass a broad perspective, it is quite another matter to get all parts of Whitehall to sign up to such documents and make their Departmental contribution. It remains to be seen how far the "regionally relevant" expenditure and activities of key government departments (eg DEFRA, DfES, DofT, DWP, DH) and their associated non-departmental public bodies and agencies can be mobilised by the new system. Chapter 3 of the 2002 Elected Regional Assemblies White Paper (DETR 2002)[11] committed Government Offices to the task of securing the participation of non departmental public bodies and agencies where appropriate in regional strategy preparation and implementation—a role strongly reaffirmed in the Government Office Review (2006).[12] However, research undertaken for the English Regions Network (Mawson 2005)[13] and the ESRC (Pearce and Mawson 2005)[14] confirmed that civil servants leading on the regional issue across Government Departments as well as senior officials in local government, were sceptical about the degree of influence which Government Offices could exercise in this regard. One issue here is the semi-autonomous characteristic of arms length agencies whose Boards invariably do not prioritise the regional dimension in their work. We suggest that there should be some Board members of quangos with a specific regional remit and that nomination to fill such places should come from the regions. These matters will need to be addressed if the SRS is to deliver its regional priorities.

  A key difference under the new SNR system will be the presence of a Regional Minister whose role includes joining up relevant aspects of public policy. However, there are questions as to whether Regional Ministers holding a number of ministerial portfolios have sufficient time to properly fulfil their regional work—a number of Regional Ministers are currently in this position.(Walker and Brady 2008)[15] Further unless Whitehall makes organisational changes to take on board their regional input into policy making at the centre, it has to be questioned whether Regional Ministers will be able to exercise real clout on behalf of their regions. One West Midlands MP, John Hemming, a member of the Modernisation Select Committee recently commented in the Birmingham Post (Hemming 2008)[16] "No one in Parliament has managed to find any executive powers exercisable by Regional Ministers in fact we believe there are none. It has been said that they have the task of joining things up, however, I haven't noticed anything more joined up since the appointment of the Regional Minister."

  There are mechanisms in place for the RDA Chairs network and Government Office Regional Directors to meet on a regular basis with senior officials and Ministers from different departments. It will be important to ensure that these central-regional relationships are connected to the work of the Regional Minister in respect of the SRS. To drive home regional priorities, the voice of Regional Ministers as a collective group as well as operating on an individual region basis will be required to engage the Whitehall machine.

PREPARING THE SINGLE REGIONAL STRATEGY

  Turning to the process of preparing the Single Regional Strategy (SRS), the consultation document states:

    "...local authorities will work with the RDA to develop and agree the draft strategy and its delivery. To facilitate the process the SNR recommended the establishment of a Leaders Forum representative of key sub-regions and upper lower tier authorities."

  We strongly support the full engagement of democratically elected local government at all stages in the process of preparing the strategy. Further, in many key policy and delivery aspects of the SRS, it is the case that the RDAs do not possess the necessary staff expertise or organisational capacity and will therefore have to rely heavily on local government to fulfil their responsibility. Equally in the case of some local authorities there is little experience of regional working at senior officer or member levels. Council leaders have a wide range of commitments within their own authorities and localities and therefore the calls on their time may present a problem for the Regional Leaders Forum. Energetic, committed and experienced leadership will be needed if this new form of regional governance is to prove successful. There is a tendency amongst some local authority Chief Executives to deny the existence of a distinctive form of decision making or management competence at the regional level which flies against the reality of the situation. (Robinson 2004,[17] Rhodes 1997,[18] Sandford 2005)[19] The consultation paper is correct in recommending a "management of change programme" in each region to address the challenges arising from the SNR. Such a programme should start with the role and capacity of local government politicians and Chief Executives to play an effective role in the regional arena. A further challenge concerns the dissemination of regional information to back bench Councillors and local communities in a digestible form. This issue has presented a significant problem in the work of Regional Assemblies. Local authorities (not to mention Government Offices and RDAs) have also not been particularly successful in linking sub-regional and local policy processes and documents with the policy area at the regional level eg the Community Strategies of Local Strategic Partnerships. A great deal of work will need to be done in this regard if the Regional Leaders Forum and the regional local government community is to have any real impact on the new SNR system.

  There has been some concern within local government about the proposed process of signing off the draft SRS (Local Government Chronicle 2008)[20] where it is felt in the event of disagreement, local government should be able to exercise a veto. Under the new SNR system the RDA is not only charged with leading the development of the strategy but also agreeing a draft with the Regional Leaders' Forum. If there is a failure to agree on the draft then the RDA submits the document to Whitehall noting the points of difference. An alternative perspective however, is that if the SRS is to be a genuinely regional document, then local government should be able to exercise a greater degree of influence at the final stage, perhaps via a veto for a specified period to facilitate further negotiation.

  As the Regional Minister will inevitably exercise a strong influence over the content of the SRS, there is a danger that the new system will be viewed as a move towards centralisation when seen alongside the strengthening of the responsibilities particularly of the RDA, a government appointed quango. Furthermore, it should be noted that the existing Regional Assembly structure is far more representative of the region as a whole and there is no central government presence in Assembly decision making arrangements. The majority of Regional Assemblies have executive Boards of a similar size if not smaller than the proposed Regional Leaders Forum but also include regional stakeholders. The evidence is that the latter group have made an effective contribution to regional activities working alongside senior councillors. (Snape and Mawson, 2005.)[21]

THE ROLE OF REGIONAL STAKEHOLDERS IN THE SRS PROCESS

  We have made the point earlier in this submission that detailed research on the work of regional stakeholders was not drawn upon to any great extent, if at all, by the Audit Commission and the Local Government Communities and Select Committee in the critique of the present tripartite model of regional governance. This evidence suggests that private, voluntary and other regional stakeholders were often actively engaged in policy and strategy development and in scrutiny activities, including taking the lead on scrutiny panels. There were some tensions within the local government community about the legitimacy of non-elected stakeholder participation in the work of Assemblies. There was further criticism that the non-elected members made no contribution to the running of Assemblies. Equally, however, stakeholders were invariably frustrated by the adoption of traditional local government committee procedures when the regional arena was seen as presenting an opportunity to introduce more efficient and streamlined forms of decision making (Snape and Mawson 2005).[22] Over the course of eight years, these tensions were increasingly being addressed and there was a growing appreciation of the positive contribution which all partners could bring to the table.

  A further advantage of Regional Assembly arrangements was that the stakeholder group provided the opportunity to present, on occasions, alternative, non parochial and party political views from across the region. The private and voluntary sectors learned to work together on agreed positions, sometimes challenging the views of elected local government. Those involved in Assembly decision making invariably saw this as a considerable strength.

  Under the new regional interface with central government, the Regional Leaders Forum, there is no place for regional stakeholders. Our view is that this change has weakened the representative nature of regional decision making and thereby removed an important counterbalance to a single powerful institutional voice, albeit one that is based on local democracy. Local government does not have the monopoly of truth about the regional dimension, indeed, it was not designed to operate at that level. The electoral process inevitably leads to a local focus in policy and service delivery terms and this makes it difficult for local government leaders to always look at the bigger strategic picture. In the case of Regional Assemblies, when this happens, regional stakeholders from the private, voluntary, community, faith, and environmental sectors are in a position to challenge municipal parochialism and encourage the development of a broader vision.

  Having removed the stakeholders group from the key regional decision making body, the consultation paper is keen to stress the importance of this input but provides little guidance as to how it is reasserted. The consultation document explains there is no single blueprint for what changes are required. Para 4.32 goes on to state "Various regions have already found innovative ways of engaging with a wide range of stakeholders including local communities in regional strategy making. Stakeholder engagement needs to be meaningful and to contribute to building consensus around the regional strategy." However, there is a danger that in some regions this vague stance presents a further opportunity to dilute the contribution of stakeholders in the SRS process. The statement in para 4.20 that "the new system would give regions flexibility to determine the detailed working arrangements for preparing the strategy and implementation plan"—gives local government and the RDAs scope to minimise the effective input of stakeholders unless stronger guidelines are set out. By way of illustration of the ambiguity of the current position, a diagram within the text of the consultation document p 35, states "RDAs and local authority leaders forum with stakeholders scope the issues and appraise options involving examination."

  We wholly endorse this statement. However, in the main text there is no reference to stakeholders involvement at the initial stage of strategy preparation.

  Turning to the final stage of strategy preparation, the document states "The government envisages that under these proposals an independent work panel would be appointed early in the process. Once the RDA, working with the Leaders Forum... had identified the issues to be tested and possible options, the panel would facilitate sessions... These discussions would engage stakeholders in appraising the options, test the evidence and narrow down the contentious issues. On the basis of the information gathered, the RDA and Leaders Forum would identify a preferred set of priorities and actions." Para 4.23.

  Under present Regional Assembly practices, since stakeholders are a constitutional entity within Assembly decision making, they are invariably engaged in every stage of strategy development. The above statement implies that they will not be a party to the initial stages of strategy development identifying issues and opportunities, nor will they be part of the final stage determining strategy direction. Being consulted about somebody else's options is not true engagement. Nor is it genuine engagement to be consulted about options and then other partners go away to take the decisions.

  There is a danger of tokenism here. It needs to be emphasised that the SRN proposals have removed and or emasculated a key representative bloc from regional decision making. Under the Regional Assembly procedures the range and richness of experience of stakeholders is recognised (Snape and Mawson 2004)[23] whilst at the same time the importance of local democracy is acknowledged with a two thirds/one third majority in favour of local government.

SECURING THE ENGAGEMENT OF REGIONAL STAKEHOLDERS

  It needs to be recognised that with the exception of the private sector, most regional stakeholders in the non-local government bloc could not afford to resource their engagement in the work of Regional Assemblies. They have relied on what limited support has been made available by Assembly secretariats.

  We note that in the case of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Greater London, arrangements are in place to facilitate structured engagement of stakeholder and civic society participation in the work of the Assemblies and Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Civic Forum, for example, is a non-statutory membership body with a wide cross section of civic society. Amongst other roles it has an on-going dialogue with the Scottish Executive and Parliament surrounding policy issues. The London Civic forum is also a non-statutory body which participates in the governance of London through debate and consultation with the Mayor and Greater London Assembly. It is also involved in the scrutiny of the London Mayor, encourages cross sectoral partnerships and acts as a catalyst for civic engagement. The Government of Wales Act requires the National Assembly for Wales to have regard to the interests of local government, the voluntary sector and business in Wales. This is achieved through the work of the Welsh Partnership Councils. They seek to influence forthcoming policy, provide advice and make representations to the Assembly about relevant matters.

  It is our view that the workings of the SNR processes will be flawed without a strong engagement of regional stakeholders and the English regions would be at a disadvantage in comparison with devolved arrangements elsewhere in the UK. The collective stakeholder voice made possible by the Regional Assembly should be maintained. With the exception of the business community (which in some regions might choose to operate independently) the majority of stakeholders do not have the resources to maintain a support structure. In our view, central government should provide the finance to run a stakeholder office with some technical support whose purpose would be to foster a strong and effective participation in the work of the new SNR arrangements. This could be resourced from some of the savings arising from the run down of the Regional Assemblies' budget.

  An independent "Regional Foundation" could be established with trustees overseeing the application of Government funding and other contributions. Amongst other things the regional stakeholders group would:

    —  participate at every stage as an equal partner in preparing and "signing off" the SRS;

    —  actively engage in the scrutiny of the work of the Regional Minister through whatever select committee or other procedure is finally agreed;

    —  secure participation of the region's citizens and communities in the regional agenda with the aim of securing awareness, ownership and engagement in the priorities of the SRS; and

    —  participate directly in the Regional Scrutiny process with local government.

REGIONAL SCRUTINY

  In relation to the issue of scrutiny it should be noted that regional stakeholders have played a very active and successful role in the scrutiny process, reflecting the wide range of expertise they are able to bring to the table. There is a concern that this "added value" will be lost in the new SNR process. (Snape et al 2004.)[24]

  Para 3.20 states "local authorities... have existing scrutiny powers which can be applied to RDAs and other government agencies as well as their own executive. With the abolition of Regional Assemblies local authorities should develop new arrangements for exercising their scrutiny powers at regional level (through the Leaders Forum)". Given the language of the consultation document, it would appear there is no guarantee that the role of regional stakeholders would be fully engaged in the regional scrutiny process as they are currently in the work of the Regional Assemblies. We question whether scrutiny processes designed for local government are appropriate at regional level in the context of multi-agency decision making. Further, given the key role of local government in preparing the SRS with the RDA, there is a danger that local government will act out a role of "judge and jury" without an independent input from regional stakeholders. Comparisons with local government scrutiny are inappropriate at this complex geographical scale of public policy.

  The Green Paper on the Governance of Britain proposed that enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of the regional level could be achieved through the establishment of nine Regional Parliamentary Committees. In the event, it appears this proposal has proved problematic with concerns expressed by senior civil servants, MPs and the Speaker of the House of Commons about various aspects of the implementation of this model.

  In our view the model is flawed, but for other reasons than senior civil servants do not wish to appear at the committee, there is insufficient Parliamentary time or that many MPs have little, if any interest in regional matters (Leslie 2008).[25] We take the view that if scrutiny is to have regional ownership, then the process should take place within the region concerned. The Regional Minister, Whitehall, Government Office and quango officials should be available to answer questions in the regions and, where necessary, attend regional scrutiny meetings. The Regional Ministers would remain accountable to the House of Common through Parliamentary questions.

  In terms of representation, we believe a regional committee should not only include some MPs and local government politicians but also representatives of the stakeholders in the region—otherwise the voice of the region would be based on a far too narrow basis. The regional body should have the kind of powers envisaged for a Regional Parliamentary Committee.

  We note at the recent final session of the House of Commons Modernisation Committee, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government argued that the Regional Parliamentary committees should meet in the region concerned and suggested a body combining MPs and local councillors (Drillsma-Milgrom 2008).[26] We feel it is essential to move one step further by including regional stakeholders and ensuring that the committee sessions are held in different localities so that proceedings are accessible to citizens across the region.

CONCLUSIONS

  We believe that the SNR proposals do not adequately address the need for enhanced accountability, transparency and engagement with the region's key regional stakeholders and civic society. More attention needs to be given to how citizens and local communities can be made aware of and, where appropriate, participate in regional governance affairs. We take the view that a properly resourced Civic and Regional Stakeholders Forum as suggested above would be an important first step in this direction.

RECOMMENDATIONS

    —  Given the establishment of devolved political and administrative institutions across the UK with their own regional development priorities, there is a need to establish a more co-ordinated approach to UK-wide strategic issues by establishing a forum of the Nations and Regions.

    —  Such a body should have responsibility for developing a national inter regional policy seeking to address major imbalances in the economic geography of the UK and associated social and environmental challenges. It would oversee a national land use and infrastructure strategy in line with the EU Spatial Planning Framework. The UK government would chair and oversee the work of this forum, as well as ensuring the implementation of agreed policies and strategies through protocols, concordats and funding agreements.

    —  In order to accommodate the expanded role of RDAs, there needs to be a review of the kind of leadership capabilities and experience required of Board members, particularly in the light of the present imbalance between private sector Board members and those from other backgrounds.

    —  Given the challenges and question marks surrounding the organisational capacity of the Regional Leaders Forum to deliver its regional role, there needs to be some independent monitoring as to whether the model is "fit for purpose".

    —  If the SRS is truly to address a broad spectrum of policy areas and deliver accordingly it will be necessary to ensure that there is Departmental commitment in Whitehall. Moreover, devolved delivery mechanisms and the contribution of arms length agencies will need to be put in place. Further, the role of Regional Ministers will need to be formally recognised in Whitehall decision making with perhaps a Regional Committee comprising all the Ministers to progress chase the strategies, and ensure that their collective contribution is not lost amongst silo driven Departmental agendas.

    —  It will be necessary to ensure Regional Ministers are given adequate time for their regional responsibilities. Currently this is a matter of concern in several regions.

    —  In signing off the Single Regional Strategy, we believe that local government should be given a strengthened position in resolving its final content with the RDA.

    —  The omission of regional stakeholders from the SRS process and other regional activities is a serious weakness of the new SNR system. Under the Regional Assembly, model stakeholders are able to operate as a single political bloc in challenging the position held by local government, the RDA or other central government agencies. They also bring a wide range of experience from across the region which adds considerably to the quality of regional decision making. The present consultation document is too ambiguous surrounding the design of new structures for stakeholder involvement which leaves the door open for other powerful players to minimise their contribution. The vagueness of the consultation document does not help in this regard. In our view a revised stakeholder group should participate at all stages of strategy preparation and indeed be an equal partner round the table with the RDA and Regional Leaders Forum. Anything less than this will seriously weaken the new SNR system.

    —  To facilitate the work of the regional stakeholders group we recommend the provision of technical support funded by central government given that most stakeholders do not have the resources to put in place the necessary level of professional and administrative back up to service their role.

    —  In relation to regional scrutiny we are not convinced that the local government scrutiny model is necessarily the most appropriate for a multi-agency decision making context taking place at a higher administrative level than that of local government. The local government community is by definition politically focused on its own geographical space and there is a danger that a scrutiny process managed by local government will be seen as an arrangement in which it plays "judge and jury" in its own domain. Under the SRS process, local government is seen to play a major role in the preparation of the strategy as well as in determining the final content. Under the Regional Assembly arrangement, regional stakeholders have played a very active role in scrutiny, bringing to bear a wider range of experience than that possessed in local government. We do not believe that the leadership of regional scrutiny should be left solely to local government, picking and choosing who should be engaged in the process. Rather, regional stakeholders should jointly oversee, with local government, the design of such a process, recognising the need to adapt it to the regional context. Regional stakeholders and local government should have joint responsibility for managing the regional scrutiny process. Under the current proposals the SRS will be produced by two powerful institutions, local government and the RDA, one of whom will be responsible for scrutiny of the other. The danger is that the RDA and the local government community could develop a relatively "closed" working relationship, in relation to the preparation of the SRS which would then not be adequately challenged by a potentially flawed scrutiny process.

    —  We are concerned, given the track record of local government at regional level that it will fail to adequately communicate regional issues from the Leaders Forum down to its own elected members, let alone local communities and citizens. It is for this reason that we would wish to see a Civic and Stakeholder Forum being established to resource various regional activities as described above, but particularly to focus on communication and engagement of citizens in the work of the new regional governance system.

Professor John Mawson

May 2008































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2   Prosperous Places: Taking Forward the Review of Sub National Economic Development and Regeneration (2008). DCLG and BERR. Back

3   Audit Commission (2006) Research on Regional Governance. Audit Commission website. Back

4   Communities and Local Government Select Committee (2007) Is there a Future for Regional Government? The Stationery Office. Back

5   English Regions Network. University of Warwick (2002-2005) 10 volumes, "Harnessing Diversity. Strengthening the Regions" research programme. Funded by DCLG. Back

6   Massey D et al (2003). Decentralisation of the UK. Unpublished paper. Back

7   CPRE, Friends of the Earth et al (2008). Power shifts, promises and policy gaps: Will the Sub-National Review of England's regions ensure sustainable development in practice? Back

8   Gilbert N "Should the golden triangle get all the research cash?" The Guardian, 20 May 2008. Back

9   Robinson E (2004) Living with Regions. Making multi-level governance work. New Local Government Network. Back

10   Mawson J and Snape S (2005) The Integration of Regional Strategies. ERN-Warwick University. Back

11   DETR (2002) Your Region Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions. CM 511. Back

12   HM Treasury, Office of Deputy Prime Minister (2006). Review of Government Offices. Back

13   Mawson J, (2005) The Chapter 2 Agenda and Regional Assemblies: The Whitehall View. ERN-Warwick University. Back

14   Pearce G, Mawson J and Ayres S (2002-05) Emerging Patterns of Governance in the English Regions. End of Award Report Economic and Social Research Council. Back

15   Walker J and Brady E "Byrne is slated by critics for taking third ministerial job." Birmingham Post 26 January 2008. Back

16   Hemming J "Widening the search for democracy and accountability." Birmingham Post 4 March 2008. Back

17   Robinson E (2004) Living with Regions. Making multi-level governance work. New Local Government Network. Back

18   Rhodes RAW (1997) Understanding Governance. Policy Networks, Governance, Reflexivity and Accountability. OUP. Back

19   Sandford M (2005) The New Governance of the English Regions. Palgrave. Back

20   Day K "Sub-national review is a serious business" Leader, Local Government Chronicle 3 April 2008. Back

21   Snape S and Mawson J (2005) Policy and Decision Making in Regional Assemblies. ERN-Warwick University. Back

22   Snape S and Mawson J (2005) The Role of Regional Assembly Members. ERN-Warwick University. Back

23   Snape S and Mawson J (2004) An Analysis of the Membership of Regional Assemblies. ERN-Warwick University. Back

24   Snape S et al (2004). Scrutiny Processes in Regional Assemblies. ERN-Warwick University. Back

25   Leslie C "Leaders' watchdog role opposed" Local Government Chronicle 21 February 2008. Back

26   Drillsma-Milgrom D "Blears supports hybrid option" Local Government Chronicle 13 March 2008. Back


 
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