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CAMPAIGNERS DISMISS NOTION OF LITTLE TALENT IN THE REGIONS

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Campaigners for elected regional assemblies have been quick to point out that the CBI response to the White Paper, ...
Campaigners for elected regional assemblies have been quick to point out that the CBI response to the White Paper, published today, offers a view from just one section of the business community and should not be seen as representing the whole of the business community.

The report is critical of the government's proposals for elected regional assemblies outlined in the recent White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice, saying business does not want elected assemblies. One of the main concerns expressed by the CBI is that there are not enough talented people in the regions to run the assemblies.

Jane Thomas, secretary of the Campaign for the English Regions, dismissed the notion that the regions of England do not have the capacity to find people to stand for regional assemblies.

'To suggest that there is no talent in the regions is quite frankly an insult. What does this say about all those currently involved in the decision-making process at a regional level such as the Board of the RDAs, the regional assemblies, those in the government offices and the many people working for regional agencies. We have a wealth of talent in the regions, and more importantly a commitment to the future of the regions that we need to tap into. The recent announcement that Joyce Quin MP, a senior Labour Party backbencher and former cabinet minister is to stand down at the next election in order to engage fully in north-east regional politics speaks for itself.'

'The fact that people choose not to stand as MPs says more about how Westminster and Whitehall are viewed and a general disenchantment with the current way politics is conducted.'

'More importantly what the CBI has to say is just one view amongst many in the business community, and one view among the many expressed over elected regional assemblies. The TUC, who have equally valid views on regional economic performance, see elected assemblies as an opportunity not a threat. At then end of the day this will be put to the people of the region and they will decide. In the meantime the debate will continue and we hope that all views, not just those of the CBI, will be given equal consideration.'

NOTES

1. A recent report into northern business attitudes to elected regional assemblies commissioned by the Regional Policy Forum found a strong belief amongst business audiences that elected regional assemblies (ERA) would contribute positively to a range of regional issues and concerns. A majority are in favour of elected regional assemblies in principle, although there is some concern over their practical implementation.

The research found that whilst knowledge of current and future regional government structures is limited, in particular amongst smaller businesses, businesses would welcome information on the benefits and services offered by current regional government structures and information on the plans for elected regional assemblies.

(Business Attitudes in the Northern Regions to Regional Governance, Regional Policy Forum, May 200. Survey conducted by Opinion Leader Research.)

2. The TUC has argued consistently for a democratic institutional response to tackle the regional disparities that exist within the UK. The TUC regards the rationale for elected regional government as being twofold, centring on tackling both economic and democratic deficits in regional development and governance.

Responding to the White Paper 'Your Region, Your Choice: revitalising the English regions' the TUC general council stated: 'We very much welcome the government's intention to give real economic power to the regions to enable them to improve regional prosperity. We also support the government's intention of offering people living in England the chance to choose whether to establish an elected assembly for their region, to provide greater accountability for the decisions that affect them. The general council particularly welcomes the commitment that such assemblies will work in close partnership with key stakeholders such as trade unions.'

3. The Campaign for the English Regions (CFER) has been monitoring support and reactions from the business community across the regions as well as from those where devolution has already taken place. The CBI's view is representative of one part of the business community and presents a particular view that should not be presented as the views of the whole sector.

In a recent postal survey, North East Chambers of Commerce found that 70% of businesses in the North East believe more decisions ought to be taken in the region, and 50% believe an elected regional assembly is the right way forward ( The Journal2/9/02). The national British Chambers of Commerce response to the government's White Paper stated: 'We urge the government to think again on regional assemblies. There is an opportunity here for great strides to be made in the way this country is run that will benefit the entire economy. We are disappointed in the current proposals for regional government in England and we hope that these plans will be radically changed before that opportunity is lost.'

Similarly the Institute of Chartered Accountants in a survey of its members found almost half of their respondents were in favour of further regional devolution. Peter Wyman, President of ICAEW commented: 'Our members are based in just about every corner of the UK economy and as such their views represent a true barometer of the regional mood. Even though there is a high degree of scepticism about the second stage of devolution among members, and how much it will achieve in practice, some believe that regional assemblies can work, but only if they are given the resource and mandate to do so.'

'The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland has found that the creation of the Scottish parliament and executive has offered many advantages to the small business sector. It has offered an arena in which our voice can be heard, and is frequently listened to by decision makers within the parliament and the executive. Whether or not to devolve powers from Westminster to the English region is ultimately a constitutional issue to be decided by the citizens of those regions. However, business should recognise that it as a good opportunity to access and influence local decision makers within a system which is both responsive and accessible.'

John Downie, Scottish Federation of Small Business

'We in the North West Chamber of Commerce movement see tremendous opportunities in an elected assembly to act as a major voice for business in the north-west which could make decisions quickly to assist in growth and increased competitiveness for the benefit of both business and communities in our region.'

Graham Morris, Chair of the North West Chambers of Commerce (Autumn 2000)

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