Responding to the Government’s statement on the Sub National Review of Economic Development, New Local Government Director Chris Leslie welcomed the fundamental redesign based on principles set out by out NLGN earlier in 2007. He said that local councils had won significant devolved powers in the Government’s redesign of regional decision-making, which form part of a constitutional rethink and step forward for devolution.
A number recommendations from NLGN’s Redesigning Regionalism report have been incorporated into the Review, including merging together Regional Economic Strategies and Regional Spatial Strategies and giving local government a stronger lead over otherwise ‘quangoised’ responsibilities. The think tank said that the Review was a clear endorsement of a new role for local authorities to shape and define regional policy.
Chris Leslie said:
On the emerging role of local government:
“Today’s announcement offers a new role for councils and council leaders, especially in delivering economic development and regeneration. Elected council leaders will have to step up to the plate and take ownership over bigger regional-level decisions which could bring in significant gains for their area. The delegation of funds down from the RDAs to councils – for instance the billions devolved to councils in pre-19 skills – is a welcome shift in the balance of power from central to local government.
On the abolition of regional assemblies:
“By removing the requirement to set up regional assemblies, the Government are passing responsibility to local council leaders, who must now rise to the challenge of leading on regional decision-making. There will now be further consultation on how precisely council leaders can ‘sign off’ the new single regional strategies. We believe that local leaders must step up to this new role, it will mean dedicating their time to decisions beyond their council boundaries, but it recognises the rightfully central role that local democracy ought to play in our national constitution.
On finance and supplementary business rates:
“The Spending Review in the autumn will now be crunch time for major capital spending plans for councils. We hope that the suggestions in the Government’s announcements on new income streams dedicated for local use could unlock major improvements in road, rail and other facilities to help regional economic performance. Our recent pamphlet “Capital Ideas” called for Treasury flexibility on future revenue generation and it’s hypothecation for local capital projects, and the signs are that we may be winning that argument.
On the reforms affecting RDAs:
“With broader responsibilities but tougher scrutiny regime, the reformed RDAs should be able to provide a single point of leadership for their region while being kept on their toes by the Regional Ministers, new Regional Select Committees and Council Leaders. This is an advance for RDAs, and should drive them to improved delivery on economic growth and prosperity.
On the new role for Parliament:
“By dedicating executive roles for the Regional Ministers and reformed RDAs and setting up specific Regional Select Committees to oversee their work, these reforms may in part provide an answer to the West Lothian Question. Bringing together the twin constitutional poles of local and national democracy is a more efficient solution to sub-national governance, with no new layer of regional politicians, instead improved joint working of our existing local and national politicians. NLGN now urges the Government to bring local council leaders and regional MPs together in a hybrid Select Committee, where both come together to jointly oversee the work of RDAs and Regional Ministers.
On the new ‘single regional strategies’:
“We have campaigned for a simplification of the various strategy documents and regional bodies overseeing worthwhile but complex work, and the rationalisation of this work into a single regional strategy, overseen by the reformed RDAs, will make it clearer where the buck stops.”