Friday, February 17, 2006

Would an English Parliament help the North-East?

The post entitled English knives out for Brown kicked off the biggest debate yet on this blog with 17 comments so far - most of them fairly uncomplimentary to me and/or Gordon!

Meanwhile Inamicus picked up on the question of whether an English parliament would benefit the North-East - a subject well worthy of consideration on its own.

He asked:

Perhaps given your previous pro-regional views you might like to expand on how a region like the North East might stand to gain from an English Parliament dominated by the interests of London and the SE (i.e. the status quo), as I've yet to hear this explained by the pro-EPers ;)

It's a good question, and a fair one, given my past record of support for an elected North-East Assembly as the best way of tackling that region's economic and social problems.

Basically, the answer lies in the funding system used to allocate resources between the four constituent parts of the UK, known in Whitehall circles as the Barnett Formula.

Drawn up in the late 70s when Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were the most deprived parts of the UK, it awards each of them a higher proportion of spending than either their population or tax-take would otherwise merit, meaning spending-per-head levels are far higher in those areas.

In other words, taxpayers in England are currently subsidising the cost of providing a higher standard of public services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than is available in our own country.

Were an English Parliament to be set up, it would necessitate a fundamental review of the formula which would see all four nations and regions treated on the same basis.

The ending of cross-border subsidies would be worth approximately £2bn to England which, if redistributed pro-rata across the eight English regions, would boost government spending in the North-East by around £100m a year.

This may seem a relatively small sum in the context of regional spending overall, but in the North-East it would probably make the difference between being able to fund vital economic development projects such as the A1 dualling and not.

In my view the degree of hostility towards an English Parliament that undoubtedly exists in the North-East is largely down to a fear that it would be perpetually dominated by Tories rather than a clear-headed assessment of the potential economic benefits.

It is, however, at least arguable that the North-East does better out of Tory Governments, given that Labour has shown an alarming tendency over the years to take voters in that region for granted.


BondWoman said...

Ooh you want to be careful Paul, the CEPers will come and get you again. They'll brook no argument in putting across what amounts to the argument that England is a stateless nation. It makes me laugh; even though you can see their point, you wonder about their way of putting it. So, you are in favour of an English Parliament and Regional Assemblies. As you say fiscal autonomy for the nations of the UK appears to be the only effective way forward, but I cannot see that happening at the present time. My colleague here RoadRunner has recently called for fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

Paul Linford said...

Look, I don't want to go over old ground Bondwoman because it's all been covered ad nauseam on the CEP blog, but I'm not in favour of regional assemblies. I was in favour of an assembly for the NE because of the particular problems of that region, but the voters decided otherwise and that's the end of it. The only remaining viable option for tackling the "English Question" is an English Parliament.

BondWoman said...

OK, you're quite clear now. Thanks. I think yours is a brave and honest approach.

Gareth said...

This is a really interesting question and it's one that I haven't really devoted any time to on the CEP blog. This is mainly because until we know what is on offer - by way of devolution to England as a nation - it is hard to say how it would effect the North East, or any region for that matter.

If we take the exapmle of an English parliament and executive with powers either devolved from a sovereign UK Parliament, or set down in a federal constitution, then I think the North East would benefit.

There would be an end to the iniquity of the Barnett Formula, of that I have little doubt. If all the nations of the UK have tax-raising powers as Scotland does now then there could be no justification for subsidising just one nation so very heavily. This would have minor though not insubstantial financial benefits for the NE, as Paul points out.

Of more benefit though will be the fact that we would now have a body of MPs tasked with improving England, for the good of the whole of England, irrespective of what the UK Government is doing. We would have a body politic focussed on scrutinising English legislation free from the constraints inposed upon them by MPs from outside England, and free from the constraints imposed upon them by the centre and, to a lesser extent, the UK political parties (a devolved England would necessitate devolved Labour, Tory and Lib Dem Parties).

In Scotland this development has led to a much more imaginative approach to policy-making and government, with more cross-party initiatives. But Scotland has been held back by the requirement to balance Scottish domestic policy with that of the UK Government and Labour Party - give England and Wales the same powers and bizarrely you will also give true devolution to Scotland.

I think that an English parliament operating under a PR system (with FPTP retained for the UK Parliament) would lead to more a more consensual politics in England that is to the benefit of the greatest number (not just the South East). As well as the Barnett dues being returned to the NE I would expect the NE to get a better share of the English national pot.

The Labour Party has taken the solid block Labour vote in the North East for granted, and many of the promises made have not been delivered. In a devolved England the Labour northlands become much more strategically important. Strategic because they would be required to counterbalance the South East (probably less Tory because of PR) and because the Labour Party would not be able to so readily ignore the demands of the North East.

The scandal of the A1 - whilst Scotland gets wholsesale improvements to its infrastructure - could not be countenanced for one second.

A better distribution of government and civil service could also result from the formation an English parliament. Either English or (more sensibly) UK government could move north; English civil service jobs should be relocated out of London to the provinces and those that have been farmed out to Scotland and Wales would be relocated back to England.

One much overlooked benefit of devolution to England (I feel) would be an increase in civic English nationalism, and a restoration of English pride. Political commentators often like to paint Englishness as a purely home-counties contrived identity. This is crap. The people of the NE are possibly the most patriotically English people there are, more English and less British then those in the South. I see the North East as an region of great cultural importnace to the English nation past and present. A stronger sense of civic nationalism would increase that historic pact that we have with each other, and that newfound sense of self-awareness would find a strong home in the North-East.

I think a this more dynamic political arena will benefit all regions, and England as a whole. Obviously this is all personal opinion, and hypothetical, and I fully expect someone to come along and state the exact opposite.

Anonymous said...

I'm from the North East of England
and I don't see an English Parliament as a problem at all.
The Yes Campaign for regional assemblies made much of London and
R.ather S.outherners ruling the roost.They played on old stereo types and claimed victim status for North Easterners.When they knew they were in trouble,they then used another cosh on the NO campaign that they are all middle aged white men and sexist.They objected to any letters
in the press from any one out side the North East,but trotted on outsiders like McConnel, Hain and various Welsh AM's when they felt like it. The YES Campaign were a nasty little bunch and the North East should be glad that they are not ruled by them- officially any way.Joyce Quinn MP seemed to think
the North East of England was really greater Scotland.An English Parliament need not be in London, all this can be up for debate when the notion of an English Parliament is accepted.
Tally ex- Darlington

Drew said...

BondWoman sounds faintly affected and childish in her tone of writing.

It really isn't clever to scoff at others.