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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Assessing the Assembly

David Forder
This has opened David's eyes to democracy in the South West

Mention English regional assemblies, and many people will remember they were rejected by referendum a couple of years ago.

But not only do they exist, made up of appointed members, but they are being given more and more power.

Is this bringing power closer to the people - or a denial of our democratic rights?

The Politics Show in the West invited one pensioner campaigner, David Forder, to assess the South West Regional Assembly.

David Forder
David Forder
Age: 72
Retired International Banker
Lives Cheltenham
Campaigns on pensioners' issues

It was quite a surprise when the BBC asked me to do some work on the South West Regional Assembly.

Frankly, I didn't know that they existed.

I knew that the idea was firmly rejected in the North East referendum.

I had no idea it was actually happening.

And that is the point.

Virtually no-one knows about it and no one was asked - let alone getting to elect the members of what is an increasingly powerful level of government, supposedly answerable to the EU.

What's going on?

To find out I first went to speak to my local councillors. They would know.

But they had no idea!

The South West Regional Assembly
The South West Regional Assembly is your South West development quango

It took an "activist" friend to fill me in. And the more I learnt the worse it looked.

Roughly speaking, out of nearly 120 seats, two thirds are taken up by nominations from local councils and one third is appointed by organisations ranging from business and unions to charities and voluntary groups.

This unelected body is tasked with setting the parameters for development of the whole of the South West.

This covers things like roads and transport, economic development, housing and environment issues.

We may not think a lot of our local councils, but at least we elect them and therefore we deserve what we get.

But we have no direct vote for who sits on these Assemblies.

And we pay part of their costs from our beloved Council Tax.

I have no doubt many of the politicians have good intentions. That is certainly true of the officers at the Assembly's offices in Taunton.

They seem honest and hard-working. On the face of it they run good training courses which, for example, include real practical training akin to the old style apprenticeships.

So there is some good in the whole set-up.

At what price?

The price is paid by Democracy.

God knows, we see our democratic rights being eroded every day, much of it done in the so-called cause of security and some of it through our elected politicians taking no notice at all of what we think is right and wrong.

David Forder
The South West Regional Assembly's existence was a surprise to David

But the Regional Assembly is a biggy.

It takes quangos to a whole new level and drives a coach and horses through our democratic right to say who will and who will not govern us.

And with that, goes any sense of accountability.

No one seems to know they even exist, let alone call them to account.

If we allow this to continue we cannot blame anyone but ourselves when we one day wake up to find democracy is an empty word with no meaning. And we want to wish this on the rest of the world?

What a cheek!

Watch David Forder tackle the Assembly's top politicians on the Politics Show West on Sunday.

The Politics Show on Sunday 15 October 2006 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

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