Thursday, July 12, 2007

Unelected regional assemblies to be scrapped

My old paper The Journal has a bit of a scoop here with the news that the unelected North-East Assembly is set to be scrapped and its powers returned to local authorities. I am assuming that if true this will also sound the death-knell for other similar bodies across England.

The rationale appears to be that Gordon Brown is putting new forms of regional accountability in place through the new regional ministers, proposed regional "Question Times" and regional select committees.

The assemblies, which were set up by John Prescott and Dick Caborn as forerunners for what they hoped would be democratically elected regional bodies, will die a very unlamented death.

Although their members were drawn mainly from local authorities, they always lacked democratic legitimacy and have been living on borrowed political time since the overwhelming no vote in the 2004 North-East referendum put the coffin lid on the regional devolution project.

The fact that some of their powers are now set to be devolved to local authorities will no doubt be presented as an example of the government's new "localism" agenda, but this does not tell the full picture.

I have always rather doubted the ability of local authorities to think beyond their own boundaries and take into account the regional dimensions in policy making, for instance in areas such as strategic transport planning. This will ultimately create a political vacuum into which Whitehall will gratefully step.

That said, it's a reform which, as well as providing another symbolic break with one of the failures of the Blair era, will lose the new government very few votes in most parts of the country.

What it does not do, of course, is leave us any the wiser about what, if anything, El Gordo plans to do about the wider democratic deficit in England, although it does suggest he now accepts that regional assemblies - elected or otherwise - are not part of that solution.

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Anonymous said...

The Greet Broon, latest Viceroy of the Scottish Raj, is merely removing the regional assemblies so that his newly appointed ministers for the regions can rule directly. I had rather expected that each of his regional ministers would be Scottish MPs, but presumably Quislings will serve the same purpose.
The Big Brown One is ensuring that there will not be a referendum on the new "treaty" of Europe, so the last remains of British self government are signed away. With rubbish occupying the HoC and the Lords, we must wait patiently for the people to become roused. It could be a long wait.

Anonymous said...

Unquestionably a move in the right direction, IMO. They were a total waste of money, and we've got more than enough of those already.

IanP said...

The Regional Assemblies are and always have been expendable.

They have been part of the 10year smoke and mirrors pre-Europe give-away.

Brown will go through a whole series of policy changes that appear to be giving either parliament more powers, or localisation.

We have already seen the Royal Prerogative give-away, but it important to remember that most of the powers he gave to parliament, so that they can vote on the treaty to avoid a referendum, will be taken away again by Brussels.

In the regions, the powers of the RDA's will be increased by Brussels so that they become the de facto authorities in each region. (unelected of course).

Its all smoke and mirrors.

media scum said...

I cannot see how he will get his housing programme through if the Assembly's strategic planning role is to be devolved to a collection of local councils who will be given the remit to get a common plan agreed. Thta won't happen - the voice of the NIMBY is too powerful in this land.

Paul Linford said...


You make my point for me. They won't agree, so Whitehall will impose a solution through the Government Office for the region. Thus devolution and "new localism" goes into reverse and becomes "new centralism."

John Adams said...

media scrum and paul

I think it's more likely (although I'm guessing like everybody else)that the RDAs will become responsible for the regional spatial strategies, merging them with the economic strategies into a single over-arching regional strategy. Councils might get a chunck of the land and property budgets from the RDAs, but I'll be surprised if they get these planning powers.

While council leaders might have some loose scrutiny powers, in effect i think it means that the RDAs can push through whatever they want and what business tell them they 'need'. There'll be next to no local democratic oversight of these planning strategies, and of course this is especially important in the south where the Tory county councils are trying to limit house numbers, in opposition to the Labour government's renewed desire to build many more houses.

media scum said...

I think these comments are correc and apposite As soemone from the NE I can only say that it just shows what potential opportunities were missed by the thumbs down to an elected regional assembly in our patch (although i have to say that i might be biased as i would have loved to have stood for that body if it had come about...)

Paul Linford said...

I agree it was a missed opportunity, but it's no use crying over spilt milk.

In retrospect, those of us who supported regional government at the time as an answer to the West Lothian Question were wrong; it's now clear that only an English Parliament can do that.

But I continue to believe an elected NE assembly could have brought economic benefits to the region, so long as it was given sufficient powers. Unfortunately this was not the case with the model put before the NE electorate in November 2004.

Anonymous said...

The trick to delivering housing through local councils is to give them some incentive to do so; at the moment, there is very little actual incentive for councils to get housing schemes through the planning process, hence the current system of stagnation and wrangling.
Reforming local authority finance - in particular the HRA - is the most obvious (and overdue) step towards changing this. Letting councils keep their rent reciepts would empower them to start building again, as would legal liberalisation making it easier for them to form partnerships and consortia.

Bryan McGrath said...

I remain a firm believer in regional assemblies. Perhaps the election in the North East failed because those opposed could play on regional rivalries and the usual line about an extra tier of politicians.

It nearly worked in Wales with their vote for the National Assembly, it actually worked in the North East, of course, the fact that the argument for assemblies was left to John Prescott didn’t help.

The decision making at the regional level is made by the regional Government Office, a bunch of civil servants only answerable to their masters in Whitehall: exactly how the Stalinist Brown likes it.