Headlines: November 4th, 2003

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has launched a campaign to raise awareness and spark debate about elected regional assemblies for northern England. The North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber regions were found to have the highest level of interest in regional government in the recent soundings exercise. The campaign will culminate in the autumn of next year.The ‘Your Say’ campaign explains what regional government would mean to people in the three northern regions so voters can make an informed choice in the referendums. The campaign includes a leaflet setting out what an elected regional assembly would mean for the regions, a ‘Your Say’ website, and promotional material. Exhibitions and visits are planned over the next 12 months. The leaflet argues that an elected regional assembly would improve democracy and bring decision making closer to the people. It would give regions a strong new voice, championing regional interests and priorities. It would have responsibilities on a range of issues from jobs, business and skills, housing and planning to culture, tourism and fire and rescue.

The publicity makes it clear that the Government remains committed to the development of a strong regional voice in all eight regions. The institutions that already exist, the Regional Chambers, the Regional Development Agencies and the Government Offices for the Regions, will continue to ensure that there is a distinctive regional voice from each region heard in Whitehall and elsewhere.

A Local Government Association survey found that around three quarters of councils believe that regional assemblies will take powers away from councils, rather than have them devolved from central government. The survey also found that 42% of local authorities agreed that there will be an elected regional assembly in their region by 2007 and 61% agreed that an elected regional assembly would help improve the economic conditions in the regions. The LGA argues that if regional assemblies are to be set up, their powers must be cascaded down from Whitehall and not taken away from local government.