Q.Isn’t it just another tier of bureaucracy we don’t need?
A. The bureaucracy already exists. Both Labour and Conservative governments have devolved more and more power from Whitehall to the regions of England – we have Regional Government Offices, Regional Development Agencies, regional offices of agencies and the quangos. The trouble is that there is no direct democratic accountability to the regions of any of these bodies.
Q. We don’t want any more of these politicians.
A. Actually Britain has fewer politicians than most of the developed democratic countries in the world. But we must approach this issue the right way. If it is right to have regional bodies because that is the most effective way to ensure good government, then we have to build in democratic accountability. After all, it’s our money they’re spending. Anyway what would you rather have – the current faceless civil servants and Quango board members running your region or politicians you can hold to account through elections?
Q. Won’t it just be a waste of good money?
A. It will cost some money to set up, but let’s not forget that the biggest waste of money comes from the existing inefficient and fragmented tier of bureaucracy already running your region, particularly the wasteful and profligate Quango. A responsive Assembly, keeping an eye on these bureaucrats will pay for itself and involve no additional public expenditure.
Q. Things are alright as they are – why bother reforming everything?
A. Things most certainly are not alright. Apart from the bloated Quango State wasting taxpayer money, it is clear that government from Whitehall cannot deliver for regions that all have different needs and problems. The solution is to let the regions decide for themselves what is needed in their areA.
Q. It’ll just be jobs for the boys won’t it?
A. We certainly hope not. It’s true that it’s up to the political parties to put forward good candidates, but the structures should be designed to make it as attractive as possible to the very best people the regions have to offer- family friendly working practices, sensible working hours and no schoolyard shouting matches. We want regional assemblies that are accessible to the whole community and inclusive in the way they work.
Q. Aren’t you just going to row about how the boundaries are drawn up?
A. The clear boundaries exist. We already have Government Offices for the regions and RDA’s. If serious concerns are raised about these boundaries in the future we can resolve disputes locally by consulting people in the contentious areas.
Q. Doesn’t this need local government reorganisations and unitary authorities – and we all know how time consuming that would be?
A. Elected regional government will take devolved powers down from central government and from the existing regional tier of bureaucracy. There is no suggestion that it would take powers up from local government. In any case, in some regions – notably the North-East – most of the population live in areas with a unitary system of local government.
Q. Is this all leading to a break up of the United Kingdom?
A. Hardly. The most dangerous threat to the Union is if the whole English Question is ignored and the English people feel increasingly disenfranchised from the Government in London and resentful of the extra democratic rights enjoyed in Celtic nations.
Q. Why bother with this when it has hardly been a success in Scotland and Wales?
A. Devolution has been successful. The Parliament and the National Assembly have established themselves well in their respective countries – and in particular their moves to stand up for Scottish students and for Welsh farmers have been popular. The English regions simply do not have the same political clout.
Q. What powers will it have/what difference will it make to my life?
A. An Assembly with significant powers over economic and social issues will be able to implement policies, which can have enormous impact on our day-to-day lives – for example: economic development, transport, environment, land-use planning, regional strategic direction of health and higher and further education. What can be more important than jobs, education, health and the environment?
Q. Will this mean we get less MPs then?
A. No. Many vital issues will not be devolved at all – foreign affairs, defence, social security, taxation etc. It is crucial that even areas which have an Assembly continue to have a proper say on all these issues through Westminster.
Q. Aren’t the existing unelected Regional Chambers enough to sort out all the problems?
A. Absolutely not. An unelected Chamber can never be as good as an elected Assembly, which takes proper account of the electorate’s views. Furthermore Chambers are almost exclusively concerned with RDAs and don’t have the powers to deal with all the big issues facing the regions.
Q. Isn’t an English Parliament the answer?
A. Absolutely not. First, it would just reinforce the over-centralised nature of the British State – an English Parliament located in London will simply duplicate the problems of Whitehall and Westminster. Better government demands regional solutions to regional problems. Secondly, it fails to recognise the fact that England is wonderfully diverse with strong historic regions. The North-East is fundamentally different from the South-West, as the North-West is different from the South-East. An English Parliament would do nothing to recognise this.
Q. Why can’t Whitehall tackle these regional problems?
A. It simply isn’t capable. The era of big government – when the man in Whitehall knew best – is over. It’s too remote, and the old-fashioned Departmental Baronies simply can’t address themselves to complicated regional problems that cut across departmental boundaries. Joined-up problems require joined-up solutions. Regional Government will be able to take a holistic overview and focus on outcomes – on delivering better public services. It’s the modern approach to governance.