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FIRST STEPS ON ROAD TO REGIONALISM

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Two of the key building blocks for developing regional government are now in place, with all eight regional chamber...
Two of the key building blocks for developing regional government are now in place, with all eight regional chambers receiving government approval and the regional development agency strategies delivered to ministers.

The deadline for the RDA strategies to be delivered to deputy prime minister John Prescott is this week. Graham Hall, chairman of Yorkshire and Humberside RDA Yorkshire Forward, went to present an overall analysis of the strategies to Mr Prescott, chancellor Gordon Brown and trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers.

Mr Hall told ministers the RDAs were prioritising action on delivering an electronic, knowledge-based economy, establishing community-based enterprises, improving links between education and industry, improving transport links, establishing rural enterprise, pushing lifelong learning, and ensuring there is a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.

Social inclusion and working with partners, such as local government, were key to the RDAs' success, he stressed.

Mr Hall sees RDAs as central to delivering government policy objectives in areas such as education and the economy. A message he put to ministers was: 'It is critical the key role RDAs can play in 'joining up' the government's agenda is recognised.'

Meanwhile Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Chamber has become the last of the eight to receive government approval. The RDAs are required to consult the chambers on strategy and account to them for their work. Relations between the two around the country have generally got off to a good start.

Research by Ludgate Public Affairs says the South West is the only chamber not to meet the stipulation that non-local government membership should total at least 30%. The South West total is 25% of its 110 members.

Among the non-council members around the country the regional CBI and chambers of commerce are well represented, as are the TUC, training and enterprise councils and further and higher education institutions.

'There is also the expected clutch of representatives from the environmental, health, voluntary and rural sectors,' Ludgate says.

The police are represented in Yorkshire and Humberside, while the West Midlands Chamber has co-opted five people to address gender and race balance. The North East has involved an MP and an MEP.

The government offered no guidance on size, resulting in variations from 40 in the East of England to 111 in the South East. The average is 76. In the North East just over half the chamber is made up of Labour councillors. In five regions - all except the South West, South East and East of England - Labour makes up at least half the local authority membership.

Regional development agencies and regional chambers is available from Ludgate Public Affairs, tel: 0171 253 2252.

Meanwhile, the North East Constitutional Convention, which includes councillors, other politicians, the voluntary sector and businesses, has approved an interim report on the shape of a directly elected assembly for theregion.

It claims the 54-member assembly plan could go ahead without scrapping the region's counties, Durham and Northumberland. Labour has always said directly elected assemblies would only be introduced in areas of predominantly unitary government.

But the report contains a veiled threat to the survival of two-tier councils in the region, saying there would be 'great pressure to demonstrate the enduring value of the two-tier structure after the creation of devolved regional government'.

The body would administer the£300m budget handled by the Government Office for the North East and decide funding for the region's councils, out of the block grant for the area.

The proposals do not call for powers to raise tax or pass primary legislation.

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