Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, launched an attack on ?regionalisation by stealth? as powers are transferred from democratic local councils ? such as from Herts County Council ? to undemocratic regional tiers of government ? like the Government Office for the East of England and the East of England Regional Assembly. He warned that powers over housing, planning, transport and fire were being shifted to a regional level, silencing local communities and local councillors.
In the autumn, three regions (North East, North West and Yorkshire & Humber) will hold referenda on whether to establish elected regional assemblies. There are no plans for a referendum in our area. Unaccountable regional bodies are already seizing powers by stealth from local authorities, transferring power to a regional level, irrespective of any referendum decision.
Peter Lilley explained: “Below the public?s radar, power is being taken away from local people. Labour, supported by the Liberal Democrats, are pushing for a new tier of distant regional politicians and pen-pushers to control local services. These ?government regions? are just arbitrary, Whitehall-determined lines on a map. They lack common purpose, culture and identity and they are not democratically accountable.
“The transfer of power to bureaucrats in Cambridge is happening by stealth. Responsibilities for housing, planning, transport and fire services are being seized from local councils and given to unelected regional politicians. I suspect, like with the European Constitution, this arrogant government will try to manipulate the referenda this autumn and disregard any ?No? votes to accelerate the process of regionalisation in England whatever happens.?
Notes to Editors
The Government have admitted that the regions are just government lines on the map, rather than being based on history or identity: “these regions are the standard statistical regions used by the Office of National Statistics, and are used as the administrative boundaries by the Government Offices of the regions, Regional Development Agencies and a number of other parts of central government? (DTLR, Your Regions, Your Choice, May 2002, p.48).
Areas with two-tier local government
Both Labour and Liberal Democrats are committed to introducing regional assemblies in England, which will mean the abolition of either county or district councils in areas with two-tier local government. John Prescott?s Regions White Paper states, ?we have therefore concluded that in any region where an elected assembly is established, there should be an associated move to a wholly unitary local government structure.? (DTLR, Your Regions, Your Choice, May 2002, p.65)
Location of regional bureaucracy
Region Location of (main) Government Regional Office (main) location of existing Regional Chamber
Eastern Cambridge Suffolk
Stealth Regionalisation ? irrespective of any referendum
Even in areas without elected regional assemblies, increasingly powers are being transferred to a regional level, whether or not people vote for it. As John Prescott has explained, ?today‘s [Regions] White Paper takes that a step further. It sets out a range of options for people in the English regions. But, whatever they decide, the White Paper will strengthen regional policy across England. Regional chambers will have greater responsibilities and a greater role in regional planning. In all regions, we will also give extra responsibilities to the Government offices to strengthen regional decision making? (HC Debs, col. 276, 9 May 2002, emphasis added).
? Economic Development: The Regional Development Agencies have for the last five years performed the economic development function formerly provided by local authorities.
? Planning: The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill currently before Parliament seeks to abolish the role of county councils in strategic planning, such as housebuilding, and give regional chambers the ability to set binding planning policies on local councils. Transport planning is also affected.
? Housing: The allocation of funding for social housing has become the responsibility of Regional Housing Boards established in each region, with local authorities having seen their role in the provision of social housing downgraded with the abolition last year of Local Authority Social Housing Grant.
? Fire: The Fire and Rescue Services Bill, currently before Parliament, will impose a regionalised structure and single fire control rooms in each region. Local fire stations could be closed according to a regional diktats and local views ignored.
? Education: The Learning and Skills Councils have recently reorganised themselves on a regional basis, with regional offices co-terminus with the nine Government Offices for the Regions.