Regional Assemblies in England: Wikis

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"Regional Assembly" is the name which has been adopted by the English bodies established as regional chambers under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 and of the elected London Assembly.[1] They are to be abolished by 2010 and replaced by Local Authority Leaders’ Boards.

Contents

Role

Their original defined role was to channel regional opinions to the business-led Regional Development Agencies. Their role now includes scrutinising their regional development agency; integrating policy development and enhancing partnership working at the regional level across the social, economic and environmental policy agenda; as well as carrying out a wide range of advocacy and consultancy roles with UK government bodies and the European Union; but their public profile is very low. Each acts as a Regional Planning Body with a duty to formulate a Regional Spatial Strategy including Regional Transport Strategy, replacing the planning function of county councils.

Election

Eight of the nine English regional assemblies or leaders' boards are not directly elected. About two-thirds of assembly members are appointees from the county and district councils and unitary authorities in each region, the remaining one-third are appointees from other regional interest groups. The exception is the London Assembly, which has 25 directly elected members. Its role is defined in the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

The regional assemblies

There is some inconsistency in the naming of the individual assemblies. They are:

Each assembly corresponds to a region of England:

Plans for elected assemblies

In May 2002, the UK government published a White Paper Your Region, Your Choice outlining its plans for the possible establishment of Elected Regional Assemblies. These assemblies were to be responsible for regional strategies dealing with sustainable development, economic development, spatial planning, transport, waste, housing, culture (including tourism) and biodiversity. They would be funded primarily by central government grant, with powers to raise additional funds from a precept on the council tax.

The Assemblies were expected to be elected by an Additional Member System similar to those used for the London Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 made provisions for referendums to be held to create such assemblies, and to simplify the structure of Local Government where this is done. Three such referendums were planned, for the regions of North East and North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber.

On 12 February 2004, Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford announced that elected Assemblies would be able to direct local authorities to refuse strategic planning applications that are not in the region's best interest. They would be able to look across local boundary constraints and ensure planning decisions are made with region-wide interests taken into account. On 8 July 2004 it was announced that the referendums would be held on 4 November (see Northern England referendums, 2004) but on 2 July Nick Raynsford announced that only the North East England vote would go ahead on that date. This region was chosen because the government thought it was the most likely to approve the proposal, but the voters rejected the assembly by 696,519 votes to 197,310. This overwhelmingly negative vote was seen as an insurmountable obstacle to elected regional assemblies elsewhere in England outside London. On 8 November, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told the House of Commons he would not move orders for the other two regions within the effective time limit of June 2005 permitted by the Act.

The no vote by the North East also affected the Labour Government's attempt to address the West Lothian question, because the government had canvassed regional assemblies as a partial solution to this Question.[2]

The English Regions Network (ERN) is the umbrella organisation for England's eight partnership Regional Assemblies. While the London Assembly works with ERN on some issues it is not a full member of the Network.

Abolition and replacement

On 17 July 2007 the UK government published the Review of Sub-National Economic Development and Regeneration.[3] The review brought forward the Government's plans to alter the structure of regional governance in England known as the Single Regional Strategy. The impact of the review will be that the "Regional Assemblies in their current form and function will not continue" and that the Regional Development Agencies will be given "executive responsibility for developing the single regional strategy".[4]

In practical terms, the Regional Assemblies will be abolished in 2010 with their executive functions transferring to the Regional Development Agencies. Local authorities will be given an increased role in scrutiny at the regional level including scrutiny of Regional Strategies and the RDAs through participation in new Local Authority Leaders’ Boards which will be established in each region. The two bodies will now jointly produce new single regional strategies, with Ministers exercising an oversight function. [5]

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Local Authority Leaders' Boards

Following the abolition of the Regional Assemblies, there are plans to establish smaller Local Authority Leaders' Boards for each region which will take over responsibilities for scrutiny of RDAs and Single Regional Plans.[6]

The Government aims for Local Authority Leaders' Boards to be: [7]

  • streamlined and manageable, able to make strategic, long-term decisions, and able to engage effectively with their region’s RDA;
  • representative of local authorities across the whole of their region — including representing key sub-regions, upper and lower tier authorities and the political balance of leaders;
  • composed of local authority leaders and with sufficient authority to act on behalf of all the local authorities in the region.

The first Local Authority Leaders' Board, 4NW, was established in July 2008.

The leader's boards

Alternative arrangements

City regions

Since the General Election in May 2005, the concept of city regions has gained currency in academic, policy and government circles, with several think tanks pushing the idea as a viable alternative to elected regional assemblies. However, opinion is divided on the question of whether to impose new city regional structures from above or to allow existing elected bodies to come together on a more informal voluntary basis.

The first city region proposal to go before ministers is the West Midlands City Region, stretching from Coventry to Telford and centred on Birmingham. There has been no public consultation and there are no plans for referendums on the subject. The idea of elected mayors has been mooted to give the City Regions some democratic legitimacy.

County assembly

With the ongoing abolition of unelected regional assemblies and, some say, a public view that county government works hard for local people there is, some say, a growing call for more powers to pass from central government and Regional Assemblies to county level where decisions about local services in real local communities are answerable to local people. There are growing calls within Kent for greater self-rule where many residents are calling for the creation of a Kent Assembly.

Cornish Assembly

In Cornwall, there was opposition to the South West Regional Assembly and the South West Regional Development Agency. A campaign for a Cornish Assembly has been running since July 2000,[8] and attracted the support of a petition signed by 50,000 Cornish residents and visitors, which was presented to 10 Downing Street on 12 December 2001.[9][10] The campaign has the support of all five Cornish Liberal Democrats MPs, Mebyon Kernow and others; they stated that the SW regional assembly was undemocratic and unaccountable, and believed Cornwall should be able to take decisions about local services in their own directly elected and accountable assembly.[11] Cornwall Council was established as a unitary local authority on 1 April 2009.

English Parliament

The Campaign for an English Parliament, backed by the minor English Democrats party and several Conservative Party MPs, is another alternative to Regional Assemblies. They believe that rather than breaking up the historic nation of England, it should be preserved - with its own Parliament similar to that of the Scottish Parliament - and that this is the only way the West Lothian question can ever truly be resolved. Though not a very well known campaign initially, it has grown greater prominence in recent years.

See also

References

  1. ^ Regional Development Agencies Act 1998
  2. ^ Oonagh Gay The West Lothian Question (PDF) Standard Note: SN/PC/2586 Page 9 and footnote 21 "21 For a description of government policy see Library Standard Note no 3176 The draft regional assemblies bill"
  3. ^ HM Treasury - Review of sub-national economic development and regeneration
  4. ^ "Regional assemblies will be axed". BBC News. 2007-07-17. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6903108.stm. Retrieved 2006-07-18.  
  5. ^ [www.communities.gov.uk/documents/citiesandregions/pdf/1073344.pdf] DCLG
  6. ^ http://www.4nw.org.uk/members.php#
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Cornish Assembly
  9. ^ Blair gets Cornish assembly call
  10. ^ Government urged to hold a referendum in Cornwall
  11. ^ Mebyon Kernow support the Cornish Assembly

External links


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