The Labour North Regional Board met on 29th April 2000 to consider making a submission on Regional Government.
This meeting followed on from a Regional Policy Forum in October 1999 which considered a consultation document drawn up on this subject. Thereafter, a widespread consultation exercise was held amongst all Labour Party affiliates following the publication of a further discussion paper.
The Board places on record its thanks to all those who participated in this process, without whose contributions it would not have been possible to reach the position now agreed by the Regional Labour Party.
The Labour Party also recognises the considerable contribution made to the debate about Regional Government by campaign and lobby groups, in the interest shown on this subject within the regional media.
The Regional Labour Party has already made an initial response to the policy commission consultation documents in both year one and year two of the policy process. The essence of these previous submissions was to both welcome and encourage progress towards the introduction of Regional Government in the North.
The Labour North Board now puts forward a series of key policy position statements which represent the unanimous view of the board, following the inclusive and careful consideration given to this issue by the Regional Party.
1. The Regional Labour is wholly in favour of the development of a Regional tier of Government. Regional Governance is already a fact of Life. Regional Government would take on the responsibility for regional governance.
2. Legislation to facilitate the introduction of regional government within the planned timetable of the next parliament should be a manifesto commitment for the next General Election. This would include the need for a positive vote in a regional referendum to be achieved as a pre-condition to establishing Regional Government.
3. The trigger mechanism for a referendum to take place would be a fixed % of a region’s electorate petitioning for such a vote to take place. This will ensure that the democratic legitimacy of the introduction of Regional Government is established at the outset of the process.
4. The voting system for the election of Regional Government representatives should be based on those used in Scotland and Wales. This will provide for a constituency base and top-up, to ensure fairer representation of gender and cultural diversity is achieved.
5. The Regional government body will have strategic, but not administrative authority over a number of functions and bodies in the region. These are:
Regional Development Agency (One North East),
Government Office North East (GONE),
Joint (local authority) Boards,
Regional and Environmental planning,
Health and Emergency services,
Training and Life-long Learning,
Leisure, Recreation and Arts.
6. In terms of size Regional Government should be “big enough to represent and small enough to be effective”.
7. As part of the process of establishing Regional Government there should be a clear commitment to the introduction of a single tier of local government throughout the region. The Cumbria question is a matter for Cumbrians, but the Regional Government North body will be able to include Cumbria if that is the expressed wish of that electorate.
8. Regional Government will be a directly elected body and be the strategic decision making body in the region. It will have a responsibility to be constructive and inclusive.
9. The Regional Government will serve a fixed term of office. It will be financed by a block grant equivalent to the current spend of the list of functions and bodies listed in point 5 above.
Labour North now has a clear and unambiguous policy position on the question of Regional Government which it will campaign for within the policy structures of the party. Finally it recognises that without a New Labour Government committed to devolution none of this would be other than an entirely academic exercise.