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To coincide with the first anniversary of the signing of the first round of Multi-Area Agreements (MAAs), the New Local Government Network (NLGN) is today launching the essay collection Cities, Sub-regions and Local Alliances.
Written in conjunction with our MAA Forum, the essay collection brings together some of the leading thinkers from across the country on the sub-regional agenda. The collection argues that collaboration between councils is continuing to go from strength-to strength but, as the policy frontiers are pushed, the debate about the future direction for the sub-regional agenda – or, perhaps more accurately, sub-regional agendas – is heating up.
In his foreword, new Housing Minister Hon John Healey said the essays provided some “sharp perspectives on the debate about further devolution to sub-regions”. In these economic circumstances, he argues that “we need active government and we need flexible government, willing to prioritise economic needs over any dogmatic commitment to old ideas or institutional self-interest”. He defends Regional Development agencies and argues that “We will extend the scope for sub-regions, but we must do so both with local authorities as the base and within a wider regional policy”.
In contrast the Shadow Local Government Minister, Bob Neill MP, adopts a far more critical stance on RDAs but states that a Conservative Government will “give local authorities the power to come together to establish new enterprise partnerships that truly reflect natural economic divisions, and to take over from their RDAs the responsibility for economic development within those areas”. Importantly he suggests that the Conservatives are “certainly open to encouraging building on existing partnership arrangements where appropriate”.
Professor Alan Harding and James Harding, from the Institute of Political and Economic Governance, argue that the repercussions of the Multi-Area Agreement (MAA) experience could be profound, representing “an early step on the road to what might ultimately be a radically different approach to the way central-local government relationships have operated in the past.
Simon Murphy and David Howl, from the Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country City-Region partnership, make the case for Accelerated Development Zones (ADZs). Neil Darwin, from the Regional Cities East partnership, makes a compelling case for a more flexible and inclusive approach to MAAs and sub-regionalism from central government. He warns central government against an exclusive focus on the traditional larger city-region model and calls for greater recognition of diversity and more control for smaller cities in England.
James Flanagan provides reflections from Leeds City Region, one of only two forerunner city-region pilots in the country. John Jory, Chief Executive at Mid Sussex District Council, argues that a business led partnership of public and private organisations working in collaboration that the shared aims and objectives of the sub-region can be delivered. Kieran Curran, form Lancashire County Council, provides an insightful comparison with the United States and the approach the Obama administration is adopting of allowing new ideas to be tested, whilst maintaining partnership between the federal states and Washington.
Nick Hope, editor of the essay collection and NLGN researcher said:
“This essay collection illustrates that there is no shortage of ideas about where the sub-regional agenda should go next. But collaboration across policy strands and administrative boundaries requires a change of mindset and new ways of working in both central and local government.
Top-down design can have its place, but it also has its limits. It is challenging for the centre to have analysis from the ground-up and a diversity of bespoke arrangements emerging, but it must let go and allow managed risks to be taken in the process.
The key question, whichever political party is in Government, is whether they recognise the wealth of untapped economic potential out there and are willing to provide the leadership in central government to unlock the powers that local authorities need to harness it”.