Tag Archives: regionalism

Strengthening Local Democracy – Government Consultation

I could, and might yet, say all sorts about this document. One particular little bullet point hidden away on page 44 caught my eye, though.

163. This raises the question of whether sub-regional structures are sufficiently visible and accountable to citizens. If they are to be granted significant powers and responsibilities, it is vital that local people are able to understand and be involved in the arrangements that are in place to manage activity and make decisions at this level.

164. Any new proposals will need to fit with the ideas set out in the first chapter of this consultation of local residents understanding of where they can hold local services in an area to account. We also wish to raise the question of whether citizens should be more directly involved in electing representatives to structures at this level, if significant additional powers, as was the case with London, are to be granted. Any reforms in this area would of course require public support. Whilst the government’s policy on mayoral governance at local authority level remains as outlined early in chapter 2, we are interested to hear views on other possible options including:

• establishing ‘city-region leaders’ – existing sub-regional partnerships could elect, from among their members, a single leader who would be a figurehead for the partnership. This would not lead to more powers but would provide greater visibility for the work of the partnership to citizens
• creating new sub-regional local authorities – rather than current and planned sub-regional bodies, which are limited to specific issues such as economic development and transport, new sub-regional local authorities could be established with a much wider range of powers. Any direct elections to these authorities would lead to greater engagement with the sub-regional level but there would need to be a clear division of responsibilities between the new and existing tiers, and scrutiny could be complex
• mayors for city- and sub-regions – executive mayors with powers over strategic issues could be created for city- or other sub-regional areas and be directly elected by the population. This would provide strong accountability but there would again need to be a clear division of responsibilities. The role of existing local authorities would be reduced, although they could scrutinise the activity of the mayor
• a combination of a directly elected executive mayor and directly elected subregional scrutiny body – this is similar to the model of the mayor and assembly established in London. The mayor would have executive power, potentially over a wide range of issues, and would be held to account by a body of people directly elected by citizens for that purpose.

Ahem.

That could save something in the region of…

Media darling and economic blogger Duncan has been looking at the list of possible public spending cuts put forward by David Davis MP in today’s FT. He asked me what I thought of both the effectiveness and the likely saving from the proposal to “Abolish regional government and devolve remaining functions ‘back to the counties’ or back to the centre“. You can read my full answer in the comments, but I thought I’d raise the issue here in case any readers have any specific insights.

My general view is that at the moment the “regions” (RDAs, GORs, SHAs, and assorted other smaller regionalised Quangos) generally do the job they’re given adequately, but there’s no particular logic to them. Certainly there’s no reason it couldn’t mostly be accomplished either at a county level without spending any extra money (and sometimes by spending less) or centrally, since the limited devolution that the regions represent often doesn’t add anything in terms of real accountability.

The problems the proposal needs to address are, firstly, the variable geometry of the UK – not everywhere has Counties any more, so for example Doncaster and Brighton may not be large enough to undertake some tasks, but the Conservatives are generally opposed to structural reforms that might address that, and to the best of my knowledge not exactly enthused by the city-region (aka “metropolitan county”) agenda. London is the other anomaly – would the Mayor be the County and decide what can and cannot be pushed down further to the individual boroughs? Instinctively that seems sensible.

Secondly, where the savings from scrapping the regional tier come from the amount of work the Government Offices of the Regions do on liaison over regulation and inspection with individual Councils, there is a risk of double-counting, since the Conservatives are already proposing to save much of that money by reducing the amount of regulation and inspection. You can’t, sadly, save the same money twice. I suppose you can get rid of some of it, and have the part you keep done more consistently and with fewer layers.

In principle though, it’s much simpler to me. Democracy works better when there’s demos as well as cratos. Villages, towns, cities and counties tend to have a significant number of people who describe themselves as being “from x”. I meet very few people who say “I’m from the East of England”, and when someone says “I’m from the West Midlands”, they tend to mean the conurbation, I don’t think it’s a widely used self-description by people from Herefordshire.

Therefore I would want the argument to be overwhelming for governance at the regional level if it were to continue – which is not to say that some delivery can’t still be done at that level by agreement, but I wouldn’t use the current structures or, to be honest, regional boundaries. I am put in mind of a comment once made by Matthew Taylor, MP for Truro and St Austell – who when asked his views on regional government replied that he was entirely at ease with it but that there wasn’t really room for many regions in a country the size of Cornwall. I think he was joking…

While we’re on the subject, I have some changes I would like to make to the sections of the Local Democracy Economic Development and Construction Bill dealing with drawing up the Integrated Regional Strategy. Will supply own red ink if required.