- Regional Assemblies in England
"Regional Assembly" is the name which has been adopted by the English bodies established as "regional chambers" under the
Regional Development Agencies Act 1998and of the elected London Assembly. [ [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/19980045.htm Regional Development Agencies Act 1998] ] They are to be abolished by 2010 and replaced by Regional Leaders Forums.
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 governmentbodies 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 Strategyincluding Regional Transport Strategy, replacing the planning function of county councils.
Eight of the nine English regional assemblies 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:
East of England Regional Assembly
East Midlands Regional Assembly
North East Assembly
North West Regional Assembly(abolished July 2008)
South East England Regional Assembly
South West Regional Assembly
West Midlands Regional Assembly
Yorkshire and Humber Assembly
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 Parliamentand the National Assembly for Wales. The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003made 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 Englandand Yorkshire and the Humber.
12 February 2004, Local Government Minister Nick Raynsfordannounced 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 2004it was announced that the referendums would be held on 4 November(see Northern England referendums, 2004) but on 2 July Nick Raynsfordannounced that only the North East England vote would go ahead on that date.
4 November 2004, voters in the North East rejected the proposal by 696,519 votes to 197,310. This result was seen as a block to elected regional assemblies elsewhere in England outside London. On 8 November, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescotttold 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. [Oonagh Gay " [http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-02586.pdf 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"]
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
17 July 2007the UK government published the "Review of Sub-National Economic Development and Regeneration". [HM Treasury - [http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/9/5/subnational_econ_review170707.pdf Review of sub-national economic development and regeneration] ] 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". [cite news | date= 2007-07-17| url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6903108.stm| title=Regional assemblies will be axed| publisher=BBC News| accessdate=2006-07-18]
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. The current responsibilities of the Assemblies relating to spatial planning will be exercised by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. [Communities and Local Government - [http://www.communities.gov.uk/citiesandregions/regional/regionalassemblies/regionaltier/ Strengthening the Regional Tier] ]
Regional Leaders Forums
Following the abolition of the Regional Assemblies, there are plans to establish smaller Regional Leaders Forums for each region which will take over responsibilities for scrutiny of RDAs and Single Regional Plans. [http://www.4nw.org.uk/members.php#]
The first Regional Leaders Forum,
4NW, was established in July 2008.
Since the General Election in May 2005, the concept of
city regions has gained currency in academic, policy and government circles, with several think tankspushing 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
Coventryto Telfordand 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.
With a strong opposition to the current unelected regional assemblies and public view that county government works hard for local peopleFact|date=July 2008 there is 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 callsFact|date=August 2008 within
Kentfor greater self-rule where many residents are calling for the creation of a Kent Assembly.
Cornwall, a campaign for a Cornish Assemblyhas been running since July 2000, [ [http://www.cornishassembly.org/ Cornish Assembly] ] and there is strong opposition to the unelected South West Regional Assemblyand the South West Regional Development Agency. The Cornish Assembly campaign has attracted the support of a 50,000 Cornish petition which was presented to 10 Downing Street on 12 December 2001. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1704112.stm Blair gets Cornish assembly call] ] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2810789.stm Government urged to hold a referendum in Cornwall] ] The campaign has the support of all five Cornish Liberal DemocratsMPs, Mebyon Kernowand many others. [ [http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/cornishassembly/ Cornish Regional Assembly Referendum] ] They state that the SW regional assembly is undemocratic and unaccountable and believe Cornwall should be able to take decisions about local services in their own elected assembly answerable to local people. [ [http://www.mebyonkernow.org Mebyon Kernow support the Cornish Assembly] ]
Campaign for an English Parliament, backed by the minor English Democratsparty 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 questioncan ever truly be resolved. Though not a very well known campaign initially, it has grown greater prominence in recent years.
Historical and alternative regions of England
List of England-related topics
* [http://ern.smartregion.org.uk English Regions Network]
* [http://www.thecep.org.uk The Campaign for an English Parliament]
* [http://www.cornishassembly.org/ Cornish Assembly Official Website 2006]
* [http://www.thepeoplesnocampaign.co.uk The Peoples No Campaign (formerly North East No)]
* [http://wmno.wordpress.com West Midlands NO! campaign]
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