Headlines: March 6th, 2007



A new report looking at options for the future shape of regional governance is suggesting the creation of a network of Regional Executive Agencies, alongside Regional Development Agencies, with the new bodies being held to greater account locally and nationally. The New Local Government Network says that since the rejection of a regional assembly in a referendum vote in the north-east of England the future of regional governance has been questioned. It believes its suggestion will provide stronger regional leadership.

The Network’s report, “Redesigning Regionalism: leadership and accountability in England’s regions”, says a regional dimension in public policy is a crucial part of devolving powers from central government to local authorities. The options set out in the report include merging regional policy strategies and looking at Ministerial regional portfolios to scrutinise the work of regional bodies.

Regional Development Agencies, it says, have been successful and could be improved if they are given leadership responsibility – as ‘Regional Executive Agencies’ – for areas such as the environment, housing and spatial planning, which are managed separately in the regions at the moment. It argues that stronger leadership by these Agencies would be possible only if there was improvement in accountability and scrutiny at the same time. That could involve local authority leaders and MPs. It also suggests councils having more power over regional decisions by, for example, being able to call them in or delay them. The report calls on Whitehall to reform the Government Office network to pass more powers to the enhanced Executive Agencies but says existing Regional Assemblies need to meet the challenge of retaining the full confidence of local government leaders.

On scrutiny, the report says MPs could be more involved in governing and scrutinising decisions taken in the regions. If devolution to the regional and local level is seen as too big a step immediately, the report adds, Regional Ministers could be appointed.

Chris Leslie, Director of NLGN, who wrote the report, said, “While the institutional structures for regional decisions should be a second order issue, the fact remains that clarifying both the leadership and accountability in England’s regions is unfinished business.”