Headlines: March 25th, 2004

A report has been published calling for extensive powers for the new regional assemblies that may be created in parts of England following referendums due to be staged in the autumn. The report, “Regions That Work” has been published jointly by the think tank, the Local Government Information Unit and the Campaign for the English RegionsThe authors say the document is a contribution by supporters of regional devolution to the hearings that are going on in the three northern regions – the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber – where voters will decide if proposed elected assemblies should be brought into being. The Government is due to publish in July a draft bill setting out revised plans on the powers to be granted to the proposed assemblies.

“Regions That Work” looks at the specific roles the bodies could play and argues that their functions should include dealing with planning and spatial strategies, allocating housing capital investment and powers over roads and public transport, including railways. In addition the report calls for assembly members to be responsible for economic development, job creation and business support, determining skills strategies including the funding of adult learning as well as having powers relating to rural issues such as agricultural support programmes, land management and forestry.

The report also argues that the new assemblies should have a general power to promote the economic, social and environmental well being of their regions and a duty to promote public health, sustainability and equal opportunities. At the same time it suggests that to ensure their accountability to voters assemblies should have their own direct tax raising powers. That, the report says, should include the power to issue bonds to raise capital. Finally it urges a role for the regions in the distribution of lottery funds.

Jo Dungey, LGIU Policy Officer, foresaw assemblies playing a dynamic role in tackling longstanding regional inequalities, contributing to a more effective regional policy and promoting joined up government and the well being of their communities.

Regional government would only work if it brought power down from Whitehall, and from unelected quangos.