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Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 15:14 GMT
Regional policy 'confusion' criticised

John Prescott: Strengthening the role of government in the regions


The government has been criticised for its confusing co-ordination of regional policy in England.

The Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit called for government offices to be beefed up to provide a "one stop shop" for policies on areas such as health, crime, education and poverty.

Better co-ordination was needed between ministers and within Whitehall to make policy for the regions work, said the report.

Service delivery had been slowed by the need to battle with multiple layers of bureaucracy.

It went on to warn that "problems are becoming more acute."

Lord Falconer: Heading the new unit
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has responded to the report, called Reaching Out, by announcing a new Regional Co-ordination Unit to oversee the delivery of government departments' initiatives across England.

The new unit will be headed by Cabinet Office Minister Lord Falconer, who will report to Mr Prescott.

Mr Prescott, who is also secretary of state for the regions, said: "This report makes clear that we must ensure that co-ordination between different departments is more streamlined and focused.

"A key way of achieving this is by strengthening the role of government offices in the regions and giving them more flexibility, so that they will be able more effectively to co-ordinate policies on the ground."

The report stressed that individual government initiatives and programmes were in themselves welcome and had won a "broad level of support".

But it added: "The clear evidence from those on the ground is that there are too many government initiatives, causing confusion; not enough co-ordination; and too much time spent on negotiating the system, rather than delivering."

'Supporting departments'

In an introduction to the report, Mr Blair wrote that it "shows that too many good projects are having to waste time negotiating their way through complex systems of unnecessary red tape.



This regional unit is a quango to manage a quango.
Archie Norman
"The report recommends a stronger role for government offices in the regions in pulling together the different arms of central government; new arrangements in Whitehall; and new mechanisms to streamline the variety of different funding streams, initiatives and arrangements.

"The government has accepted these conclusions. Our aim is now to implement those proposals in ways which can support departments in delivering their key objectives, and which will improve the coherence of national departmental policies delivered locally."

The Tories have seized on the announcement of a new unit by saying it was evidence of Mr Prescott being sidelined in one of his key areas of responsibility

Shadow regions spokesman Archie Norman said: "This is another snub to John Prescott from the prime minister.

"Prescott's disintegrating transport policy meant that he lost his transport brief to Lord Macdonald. Now his failure to deliver on urban regeneration - with falling investment in our inner cities - has resulted in, of all people, the minister for the Dome taking over control of Prescott's regional responsibilities.

"This regional unit is a quango to manage a quango. The government is creating a seething mass of unwanted regional bureaucracy, which is costing millions of pounds of taxpayers' money each year."

A spokesman for the DETR said the Tory accusations were wrong as the new unit would replace existing structures within the government's regional offices.

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