|You are in: Talking Point|
Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Should there be regional government in England?
The government has revealed plans for local parliaments for the English regions.
Each area will be offered a referendum on an elected regional assembly.
This could lead to the abolition of existing county councils in order to avoid too many layers of local government.
It is likely that the assemblies will be modelled on the Greater London assembly rather than the Scottish or Welsh versions.
They will be given control of economic development, transport, waste management and planning - but not tax-raising powers.
Assembly members would be elected by proportional representation, with each area having between 25 and 30 members, headed by a first minister.
Would you like to see the more power devolved to the English regions? Tell us what you think.
This Talking Point was suggested by Simon B. Wilson, UK :
We don't need regional English assemblies! What we do need is an elected English parliament to balance the Welsh and Scottish parliaments. A representative number of members from each of these three bodies could then make up a UK parliament.
If you have any suggestions for Talking Points, please click here.
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
This whole plan is an EU scheme to divide and conquer so rendering government at Westminster redundant. As always with the EU the strategy is deception and by stealth. Regional Assemblies will be answerable to the COR - the Committee of the Regions - based in Brussels - and not to the electorate. The result would ultimately be a dismembered, powerless province; a vassal state of the EU - to be avoided like the plague!
Andy P, England
England is crying out for its own parliament, for a devolved England. The Government, ignoring this, is telling England that, no, it wants to be broken up into meaningless "regions" and that there is no desire for an English parliament, no plural. The Left knows what we want, we don't, so perhaps the people of England ought to shut up and allow their country to vanish, because really that's what's best for all isn't it?
A local authority is worthless unless it controls the purse strings - and who wants more taxes to support another layer of bureaucracy? No, the further fragmentation of the United Kingdom is clearly designed to lessen the power of Westminster and prepare the way for Brussels ... intended or not, that will be the result. Scary!
Surely the more tiers of responsibility that can be introduced into any form of authority then allows the blame for failure to be spread even further. The greater numbers involved the greater the cost. There is little wonder the current government are in favour of regionalisation. Leave things alone
The Highland and Islands are different from the Lowlands, but Scotland gets a Parliament. North Wales is different from South Wales but gets an Assembly.
Parts of England are different, but they can have assemblies? I think it says more about Labour's thirst for power at any price(they wouldn't really get a look in, in an English parliament) and their fear of English nationalism.
And before anyone says anything, the sooner we have a democratic federal Europe, the better
Please, no! The last thing we need is more government. All I see from this proposal is yet another layer of bureaucracy, regulation, costs, taxes, red-tape and second-rate politicians getting in the way of the ordinary people who just want to get on with their lives. Government is the problem, and more government is most definitely not the answer!
Unitary authorities lying underneath a strategic regional body (as is proposed) will make local service provision more joined up, more accountable, more efficient and far more flexible than the ridiculous multi-tiered system we have currently. Regional Governance is not just about forums and democracy and identity.
West Devon and Cornwall, like parts of Wales and the North are in dire need of a stronger voice. Regional assemblies will not solve this issue. One only has to look at an example: Before Plymouth (in Devon) was a unitary authority, Exeter was the centre for the whole of Devon. Plymouth suffered as a result, because naturally Exeter people were biased for their own city. What we really need is a central independent group tasked with ensuring each region is dealt with fairly and prospering at the same rate.
Since the GLA was set up in London, I have noticed two things: my council tax payments increased by over 10%, and the erection of a large glass dome shaped building (still under construction) next to the River Thames. Sadly, nothing else.
I think this is a poor idea - if you need
an example of how stupid this idea is look
at Ottawa, Canada. Up until last year the area around
the Nations Capital had a City Council and Regional Government,
all answering to Provincial government with separation
of powers between the Federal Government. So if
you like seeing your tax money wasted paying X to see
that Y is doing what Z wants, go ahead and vote for regional government. Perhaps at the same time you could flush some money down the toilet - it amounts to the same thing.
England deserves the same recognition as Scotland and Wales and that is as a country in it's own right and not one subdivided into regions.
Money should not be wasted in setting up regional assemblies and eradicating county councils. Better by far to keep the county councils, establish an English Parliament and spend the money on services to the people such as the NHS and so on.
To those who say it's "another layer of government" - it isn't. It replaces the County Councils.
Erik Fuller, UK
The proposed regional assemblies have no revenue raising powers and are therefore subject to central government control. The proposed devolvement of power is therefore a sham. The regional assemblies would as presently proposed have less power than an existing county council. Correspondents have compared these proposed assemblies with European regional governments. In Europe there is a constitutional derived split between national and regional governments responsibilities and both authorities can raise taxes. Without such an arrangement here regional assemblies will not gain involvement and support from the communities they will govern.
No, England does not need regional assemblies. Incidentally your description of them as Local Parliaments inflates their importance in a rather misleading way. They will be both divisive and relatively powerless and will be used as a device to avoid addressing the really important constitutional problems. The fact that England, unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has no forum in which to give political expression to national identity, and the immensely privileged position which Scotland now enjoys within the United Kingdom. A Parliament for England as a whole is the only thing that will answer deal with these problems and is probably the only thing that can now save the United Kingdom.
You can tell how well thought out this idea was by the fact that the members are to be elected on the PR system. I doubt Tony would give England its own Parliament because his friends, the Scottish, would find themselves out of a job.
Charles Leighton, England
Sounds like a really silly point but if and when these regional assemblies get off the ground there is bound to be dispute about which city in each region is chosen. Manchester or Liverpool for the North-West? Leeds or Sheffield for Yorkshire? Newcastle or Middlesbrough for the North-East? And so on. A nice idea in theory but if it will work in practice is anybody's guess.
It depends on what you want from regional government. Norway has this system and is a great success. The government system employs 33% of the work force and uses ?50 billion in administrating itself. This not a system I would inflict on anybody else
About time! Yes, there should definitely be regional government in England. I really can't understand people's objections to such a reform. We've heard Doom-laden prophecy after Doom-laden prophecy over every piece of political reform, from the 1832 Great Reform Act to the expulsion of hereditary peers from the House of Lords in 1999, and each time the scaremongers have been proved wrong. The British system of government is still fundamentally feudal in its nature, and English devolution should only be seen as a stepping-stone to the system's full modernization. One word of warning, though: no regime in Westminster has ever liked to surrender its overweening power (hence the toothlessness of local authorities), so once English devolution is enacted, assembly members must do all they can to make the bodies work, if necessary independently from Westminster. In other words, we need more people like Ken Livingstone, Rhodri Morgan, and Ray Mallon.
The NHS is in a mess, so is education, crime and just about everything else. I vote that the government sort this lot out before wasting even more money on a gimmick
The most interesting part of this proposal is that the assembly members would be elected by proportional representation. Now that the Government has acknowledged the benefits of this system will it change the way we elect our MPs? Please give power back to the electorate by doing away with the current system, the only people deciding who run the country live in marginal seats.
Working for an extremely low paid job in a County Council I would say, I'd rather not see two thousand plus people on the dole queue because an assembly has taken over from the County Councils. Elected assemblies on a local level will not help you at all. This may be a surprise but your local councillors don't actually know a thing about the service areas they represent, it's the people working there that give you a good service with the things you take for granted - social services, libraries, education, the guys who keep the motorways in order - it's all council. An assembly wouldn't know what to do with all this.
The idea of devolved government is in principle a good one, but should not be pursued piecemeal as this government seems to do.
So far we have one system for Scotland, another for Wales, yet another for London (and now Hartlepool, etc).
What is required is a fully integrated strategy in which it is clear how power is devolved at each level. It's no good simply arguing that new regional parliaments would mean the end of County Councils. Nor is it sensible to simply introduce an additional tier without fully explaining the relationship between each tier down to the lowest level. Devolution of power is good, but it must be done properly or the benefits will all be eaten up in inefficiency, bureaucracy and additional costs.
Do the proponents of these ideas have any idea how much all this would cost? Then there's the added red tape. Australia, the world's most over-governed nation, has nine governments. In addition, most of the parliaments have upper houses as well. This ridiculous situation does nothing for the country except for employing hundreds of non-producing politicians and civil servants with their generous salaries, superannuations, and expenses. I think the British people would be mad if they accepted this.
Hugh Jones, Wales
Cornwall suffers from being one of 46 European areas whose income is less than 75per cent of the average, whereas Central London tops the league table of UK wealth, with income two-and-a-half times above the European average. This is despite the people in Cornwall currently paying nearly ?2billion a year in taxes and the area being designated an Objective One area by the EU. Of that ?2billion a year in taxes we only get ?1.65billion back - a shortfall of ?350million every year. Surely a regional government could improve on those figures.
English parliament now. No assemblies!
Devolution is nothing more than an EU inspired trick to break the UK and deliver it weak and helpless into the clutches of Europe.
The reason for this is simple: the UK is a global power.
We don't need EU membership and the majority of us don't want it. The EU must therefore divide Britain, making it weaker and more dependent upon EU local area funding, before it can successfully digest us.
The BBC's poll, which suggests a majority in favour of devolution, does not spell out what was actually being asked. Were respondents asked to choose the form of devolution - i.e. RAs or an English parliament? I suspect not. The results of the poll are as likely to reflect disenchantment with the current government and political structure as it is to 'prove' support for RAs. The sad thing is the English will undoubtedly once again be given no real choice in their own future.
David Muir, UK
I don't want an English Parliament or a South-West Assembly. I want a Cornish one. "Devolution for England" means welding Cornwall into a South-West region that a majority of Cornish people do not want. Devolution? Same old imperialism, more like.
Regional government would give Tony Blair just another scapegoat. My home village in Lincolnshire has already 4 levels of government - Westminster, Lincolnshire County Council, West Lindsey District and the Parish Council. Surely this enough for any village of less than 1000 inhabitants! I personally think that all counties should become unitary authorities and district councils should be abolished. Most people have a natural affinity with their county and a county has an identity which people relate to which the districts do not.
It seems to be that the more layers of government there are the less accountable they become and the less democratic. With only one council for an area people know who is responsible.
This smacks of yet more political expediency. If this government seriously believed in devolution then every area of the UK would have the same level of devolution rather than the minimum for each area that they thought they could get away with. Devolution will only work in the long run if it is seen to be fair across the whole of the UK. If not, it will only engender resentment between regions.
It is my opinion that Britain is not ready for more democracy yet. Maybe in another hundred or two hundred years but not now.
I think there are a lot more important issues to be dealt with. Why on earth do we need more government to fritter away our money? I propose we halve the number of MPs and spend the money saved on making our country great again!
I for one would vote for a regional assembly if the government set one up to cover my region: "England"
The proposed regional assemblies will only give a lot of agro and there will be so much overlapping bureaucracy that nothing will get done at all just like in Canada where it is not one country any more but thirteen tin pot dictatorships that do not cooperate with each other and it is actually harder to do anything with a Canadian province than with another country.
"Don't do it!" Here in Canada there are three levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal; who are constantly at each others throats. One party blaming the other for all kinds of woes. Never mind all the in fighting the huge cost alone of running duplicate services under different standards should serve as a warning.
Having lived in a couple of European countries recently I can see the value of regional governments. You feel much more a part of a society when you live in a smaller region - containing just a few cities and towns, rather than in a large country like the UK. True devolution of power should also bring a more even spread of wealth throughout the UK - rather than all gravitating to a single centre. And how will Labour guarantee that they don't just end up giving Westminster even more centralised powers? Time for a written constitution!
John Michael, UK
We've just had a 16% council tax rise - and the suggestion is that we should pay even more for another layer of bureaucrats? No way would I vote for this move.
In Canada we have three levels of government: Federal, Provincial and local. None of them work! They are for ever blaming one another for any failings and taxes are withheld and given at the Federal government's whim!
It's interesting that this will be "modelled on the Greater London assembly rather than the Scottish or Welsh versions." This way Tony's cronies get even more jobs, without running the risk of the English developing their own national identity. It reduces England to the status of a large, spread-out borough. But I guess we all know that the long term plan is to make England just another German province anyway.
Steve Rigby, UK
Anyone who says that there should not be regional assemblies are obviously not from either the North East or North West of England, but the South which already has its own Parliament (Westminster) which has focused policy to better suit their needs, requirements and finances. The Thatcher years personified this completely. It is no surprise that Wales, North East and North West are the three poorest regions in the country.
It was right that Wales got an Assembly, Scotland got a Parliament and it will be right that English regions get a say as well. Scotland receives 17% of the inward investment to this country, compared to 8% in the North East. Scotland receives 19% more per person in Government funding than those in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland get direct representation for their regions not only in the UK cabinet, but also in Europe where they can directly attract business into their areas - the English regions do not.
Regional Assemblies would be much more accessible to the people of that region and would make politics seem a little closer to people, and perhaps rebuild some belief in politics. I currently live in Scotland and have seen this happen. It's time that English Regions, where clearly there is a need for an Assembly, if for nothing other than to stand and shout their corner, be given one.
Dave Hartley, Birmingham, UK
President Blair - give us our parliament now, it would be the first step in declaring the independent nation state of Yorkshire and our escape from your Euro-centric master plan.
Dividing England into regions is putting the cart before the horse. Let us have an English Parliament first which could then discuss the desirability or otherwise of Regional Government.
Country people will lose out in an urban-dominated regional assembly
No, no, no! The idea for English devolution is a hastily drawn up gimmick. It will not address the real problems post-devolution, and it may mean England ending up with splits and division worse than now. What if only two regions say yes and the others say no? How unfair would it be for two regions to have devolution and the others none? If needs must, scrap county councils and form an English Parliament. Talk of regional assemblies is talk of nonsense.
No, don't do it! The fragmentation of our United Kingdom is just a preparation for its absorption by Europe. United we stand!
In theory, this could be one of the most important changes this country has ever seen, and would serve to give local residents more control over the everyday running of their part of the country. In practice it'll probably be yet another shambles and a huge waste of public money that will get absolutely nothing done. How can we give regions of England their own assemblies when England itself doesn't even have one?
I'm tired of politicians advising
in favour of regional assemblies.
Is there such an animal as an honest politician who will tell us the truth and not try to feather his/her own nest ? We have quite enough bureaucracy. Regional assemblies would simply mean more jobs for the boys. And at whose expense? I'll give you one guess !
Where are the proposals for an English parliament? Why is it that England gets lumbered with running Britain Plc while Scotland has political independence?
Derek, Powys UK
In my opinion there has to be English regional government in some form. The concept of MPs from England, Scotland and Wales voting on UK issues is one thing but voting on issues that affect only England is another. It's undemocratic. There should be a parity of power/authority between the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and an English local government, with Westminster handling the remaining UK-wide issues.
I suppose this might work well for a part of the country with a strong regional identity, but I can see the area where I live being squeezed into the most distant part of the south-east region (since there seem to be no plans for a South Midlands), our county council being wound up, and any semblance of local autonomy going, yet again, to London. Decentralisation? Hmmm....
Devolving power to English regions can only be a good thing. What is good policy for, say, Devon, might not be right for Tyneside. It's only right that regions should be given more power to address local issues, rather than Westminster making blanket decisions. Devolution in Scoltand has demonstrated this - greater accountability, scrapping tuition fees, free healthcare for the elderly. Just because you give more autonomy to regions doesn't mean you destroy 'Britain', rather, you recognise the diversity of the island and the individual issues of its constituent parts.
I think what we need is not a shake-up of our political system, but a shake-out of our politicians. They seem to turn every democratic institution, from local authorities all the way up to Parliament itself, into nothing more than talking shops where they can get their own voices and opinions heard. Before we start introducing yet another layer of talking shops, let's get politics in this country back to where it belongs: giving the ordinary people a voice in matters. Until and unless that happens, voter apathy will continue to make all of our elected assemblies toothless and spineless.
Shelley Fyfe, England
We have to find a way to make citizens realize that democracy involves them - apathy is not healthy for democracy. Maybe regional assemblies can provide a link, and enable people to see that local government can affect their lives and hopefully they might be represented by people with vision and commitment, to break the present mould of indifferent and often inept local government.
The idea of introducing these so-called English assemblies is quite frankly absurd. Bringing in yet more middle management to this country would only succeed in unnecessarily consuming more of the budgets that these areas are operating under. The NHS is a prime example of what occurs when funding is used at management level rather than at the grass roots where it is needed. The sub-standard wards should be serving as a warning of what would happen if the assemblies were to be brought in.
Nick Wallis, North East, UK
England is very "regional" and is not very cohesive. For this reason, forcing a sense of national identity upon us will not work. We should focus on fixing the problems with local government rather than throwing it all away and starting again from zero. For example, as a life-long Londoner, I feel that the throwing away the GLC was a political move rather than a practical one. Londoners were given the choice to have the mayor and voted him in, but would have preferred the option to bring back the GLC as it was. The mayor now has little power to actually achieve what we voted him in for, and the assembly have done little either. At least it seems that with this plan, the rest of the country will get to decide if they want their existing institutions abolished - and should by all means vote for change; but complete abolition is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Local governments are the best-placed to serve the people, and should be given more power, not less!
People want representation. Local and county councils are emasculated since the days of rate capping and continued centralisation. So why build an extra tier, why not just re-empower the counties and metropolitan counties?
As for regions themselves, they are arbitrary geographic groupings, not founded in social or political culture (unlike Scotland, NI and Wales). It won't work.
Martin Marston-Paterson, Wales
I see no point in adding yet another talking shop with little power to do anything. The current system could be made to work if only local councils were given the power to actually do things, and raise their own money.
Our local councils are currently powerless to central government targets, rules, and above all the 80% of their finance that comes from central government.
If local councils have no power is it any surprise that many councils fail to attract good councillors and votes from the local population?
Politically speaking, the introduction of regional governments would be a long step back towards the Dark Ages which predated the arrival of the Normans. Having abandoned the complications and friction inherent in regional administration a thousand years ago, it seems extraordinary that Mr. Blair has suddenly decided to resurrect it. I sense that our present government is once again displaying its ignorance of this nation's history by toying with long abandoned concepts which it thinks represent innovative thinking. My best suggestion is that our prime minister should spend less time tinkering aimlessly with matters that he clearly fails to understand, and more time studying the political background of the nation which he is trying to govern.
The system of decentralisation is the next logical step to facilitate the centralisation of power in Europe, and an effective delivery mechanism. I personally do not mind this, but surly some debate/referendum should be held rather than "Europe by stealth".
No, its just another means of breaking up the country. Our politicians can no longer be trusted to serve the best interest of the country, they look only to themselves and future careers within a European parliament. England needs its own government not one that has a Scottish majority, a government that will look to the needs of our country.
I don't see any need for paranoia about England being 'broken up'. We already have a mild degree of fragmentation based on the county system, and any regional governments would surely be complementary. Provided the boundaries are fixed wisely - for example not lumping culturally and economically distinct entities such as Cornwall with Wessex - the regions potentially have as long a pedigree (many divisions dating from Anglo-Saxon times) as the counties. The sound administrative and democratic arguments for devolution have been covered elsewhere.
I am English but live in Wales. There are arguments as to whether the Welsh Assembly has done much for the people of Wales but it could teach Westminster a lot. It is far less confrontational with less point scoring. You can't tell which party a member is from very often. They don't time waste with archaic procedure and planted questions. It is very informal. They even use first names! Areas like the north west should have a parliament. London is too dominant in many areas of life.
Mike, Edinburgh, UK
I'm from the north west of England but I'm studying in Edinburgh, and Mike has got it wrong!
Devolution, overall, is working - it's giving Scotland a voice and making sure that Scottish issues are handled with due care and attention from representatives elected by Scots.
I'd love to see devolution back home!
This country is a sum of its parts. Not just London and the rest of the UK, not just urban and not just rural. Devolving power to make smaller, more manageable discreet units is a good idea, but only if everyone in this country can be represented fairly and squarely.
Oh great; another layer of politicians. That will give us five levels of government - town council, county council, regional council, Westminster and Europe. Just what we need for greater accountability!
It is perverse that the mechanisms of power for all of England reside in one extreme corner of the country. I find it deeply offensive for people in London to preside and make decisions on matters concerning the west country; it should be people in and from the west country doing this. Perhaps people in the arrogantly named "home counties" are afraid that, if regions had a greater say in how and where their own monies were spent, then London-based cash drains such as the underground, Dome, new House of Commons building, state and royal occasions and so forth would not be subsidised by the rest (majority) of us who live elsewhere.
Long overdue - yet again we are slow in following the lead of other countries such as the US and Germany. The regions play an understated role in promoting regeneration and attracting inward investment.
Devolving power to the regions within a central wealth balancing framework is essential in making the public feel more in control of their surroundings and in preventing poor and rushed policies being applied without sufficient democratic process. Some of the strongest examples are found in urban and transport planning and in agricultural policy. However, the precedent set in London means little unless regional authorities have a wide-ranging veto and substantial spending power.
The metropolitan councils proved just how much taxpayers' money was being wasted by an extra level of government - why should we consider another one? This will only serve to distance the government from local issues and make it more remote - and more costly.
Yeah, independence for the south west at last!
This could well be the answer to my prayers (but looking at the proposed regions I doubt it). The public transport provisions in the central south have for years suffered from the fact that they are controlled by too many councils (including at least two county councils). If the entire region was grouped together we might finally see an integrated public transport system that allowed you to work in one town and live in another without the daily traffic jam. However it looks like Bournemouth will be dumped in the south west with the rest of Dorset while Southampton and Portsmouth (where most of the work is) will be in the south east and so will lose out to the home counties.
Will Lever, UK
The experience of the London assembly - created by Labour without any effective power - is not encouraging. And will we see a more equitable distribution of taxpayers' money? I doubt it.
No, but I would like to see an independent England and freedom from the burden of subsidising Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. That way, it would be up to the EU to bail out the whingeing Celts, not just the English taxpayer!
In response to the message by Pete, UK:
Regionalisation would strip power from local district and county councils and concentrate it in bodies that are more effectively influenced from Westminster. We all saw that the Welsh regional assembly's leadership and the mayor of London selection process was heavily influenced by this government who tried as hard as they could to have their "place men" installed.
Philip Shorter, England
I have only one comment. England is a country and a country within its own right, in the same way that the other three countries of Scotland, Wales and Ireland are recognised as being. If the government wants to hold a referendum, why don't they have one in regard to whether or not we English want our own parliament, as opposed to their plans of dividing us to further their EU agenda?
It is ironic how on one hand we are all being steamrollered into a United States of Europe, and on the other hand our United Kingdom is being fragmented. I can't rationalise these contradicting movements. Surely one or the other?
Regional devolution is just a gimmick - it is absolute rubbish. I agree entirely with Chris Cowdery and Philip Shorter!!
09 May 02 | UK Politics
New voice for English regions
09 May 02 | UK Politics
Devolution offered to English regions
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Other Talking Points:
Links to more Talking Point stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy