Session 2006-07 14 March 2007
** EMBARGOED ADVANCE COPY**
Not to be published in full, or in part, in any form before 00.01am on Wednesday 14 March 2007
POLICY ON THE REGIONS LACKS CLARITY
A Committee of MPs is today calling for the Government to be more open and direct in its approach to regional policy.
In a nine-month investigation, the cross-party CLG Committee heard that the Government’s regional policy is in “a permanent state of flux” while major regional institutions are being “blown around by a welter of government initiatives” from Whitehall Departments which are failing to join up their demands. There is considerable confusion about the roles played by the Government Offices, Regional Development Agencies and Regional Assemblies in determining regional policy.
The Committee also explored the emergence of a new Government policy on the development of ‘city-regions’ where neighbouring authorities might co-operate at the sub-regional level in pursuit of mutual economic and strategic goals. Members concluded that there is an urgent need for the Government to confirm how the boundaries of city-regions will be formally determined and what additional powers and resources it is willing to provide so that they can operate effectively as strategic economic partnerships. The Committee heard concerns from a number of smaller cities, towns and rural areas anxious for reassurance that the development of the city-regions policy would not mean a diversion of Government support from their areas.
Chair of the Committee Dr Phyllis Starkey MP said: “public understanding of the current regional institutions is not helped by Whitehall’s failure to think collectively and strategically about what they should do. Regional governance could be made much more open and accountable quite simply, if more information was in the public domain and if central Government would streamline its demands.
The success of the city-regions concept was illustrated for us by the number of submissions we received from local authorities interested in participating in such new partnership structures. However, the Government has failed to set clear parameters for, or to express a specific vision of, what is achievable within the constraints of national policy and available resources. This failure is causing great anxiety in non-metropolitan areas, and is impeding realisation of the policy in those cities where it has the best chance of success. Unless statements clarifying the Government’s position are made soon the city-region movement will again lose momentum.
The Committee welcomed steps taken by the Government to give the regions more of a say in the allocation of public funding through the regional funding allocations exercise.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. In its inquiry
Is there a future for regional government? the Communities and Local Government Committee looked at Government policy following the North-East referendum in 2004. In its report it uses the term ‘regions’ to mean the administrative regions covered by each of the nine Government Offices for the Regions.
2. The Committee heard oral evidence over a period of nine months from February to October 2006. Its formal terms of reference were:
the potential for increasing the accountability of decision-making at the regional and sub-regional level, and the need to simplify existing arrangements;
the potential for devolution of powers from regional to local level;
the effectiveness of current arrangements for managing services at the various levels, and their inter-relationships;
the potential for new arrangements, particularly the establishment of city regions;
the impact which new regional and sub-regional arrangements, such as the city regions, might have upon peripheral towns and cities, and
the desirability of closer inter-regional co-operation (as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities.
After assessing the original submissions to the inquiry, however, it refined these questions to two:
How does the current system of regional governance actually work?
What role would city-regions play in the future development of regional policy?
3. The Communities and Local Government Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Department for Communities and Local Government and its associated bodies.
4. The current membership of the Communities and Local Government Committee is as follows: Dr Phyllis Starkey MP (Chair, Lab), Sir Paul Beresford MP (Con), Mr Clive Betts MP (Lab), John Cummings MP (Lab), Martin Horwood MP (Lib Dem), Mr Greg Hands MP (Con), Anne Main MP (Con), Mr Bill Olner MP (Lab), Dr John Pugh MP (Lib Dem), Emily Thornberry MP (Lab), David Wright (Lab).
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