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MORE POWERS TO ASSEMBLIES TO REDUCE 'NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE'

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Report of ODPM housing, planning, local government and the regions committee ...
Report of ODPM housing, planning, local government and the regions committee

'Giving adequate powers and resources to elected regional assemblies where

they are introduced' is one of the five main recommendations of the ODPM

select committee report into reducing regional disparities in prosperity

(often referred to as the north-south divide) published today*.

The committee found that the economies of six of the English regions,

including the north-west, have consistently grown less fast than the UK

average, and that this gap is damaging the national economy as a whole. The

report states that this results in reduced life chances for people in the

north-west.

The government is committed to reducing the gap between regions by the year

2012 and the select committee is charged with monitoring progress and

recommending actions, such as bolstering the role of elected regional

assemblies, to allow this target to be met.

The chairman of the ODPM committee, Greater Manchester MP Andrew Bennett

(Denton and Reddish), said:

'The differences between the economies of the English regions have continued

to widen in recent years - resulting in higher unemployment and shorter life

expectancy in the north and escalating house prices and congestion in the

south east.'

North West Regional Assembly leader Derek Boden said:

'I welcome this influential committee's work - it is important that we help

the government honour its commitment to reduce the north-south divide. The

north-west economy is the fourth highest contributor to the national wealth,

and yet our citizens are the second worst off - only people in the north-

east have a lower standard of living. And ordinary working people in London

are 50% better-off than their counterparts in the north-west.'

The report notes the following:

The north-west has more deprived wards than any other region - 26% of the

most deprived (10%) of wards are in the regio n.

The relative regional performance of the north-west (measured in GDP per

capita) has fallen from almost equalling the national average in 1973 to 10%

below the national average in 1996 - no other region has experienced a

greater drop.

Public expenditure (government spending) per head is higher in Northern

Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Greater London (who all have elected

assemblies/parliaments) and in the north-east than it is in the north-west.

In the year 2000, 13,000 students graduated in the north-west, but only

10,000 found jobs in the region. In fact there is a net outflow of students

after graduation in all regions except London and the south-east.

The other four recommendations contained in the report's summary are:

  • Recognising the differences between regions and prioritising the

    least prosperous regions, rather than the current approach of developing

    policies for the benefit of all regions;

  • Acknowledging that the measures needed to tackle unemployment need

    to be different in areas where there are lots of jobs and in places where

    jobopportunities are few and far between;

  • Ensuring that the fundamentals for growth - transport, research and

    development investment and universities - are put in place now in the less

    prosperous regions;

  • Reviewing the allocation of public resources between the nations and

    regions of the UK.

    * The report is available here.

    A press release from the Campaign for the English Regions follows:

    All party committee of MPs back more powers for the regions.

    Welcoming the publication today of the ODPM select committee's report on Reducing Regional Disparities in Prosperity, George Morran, chair of Campaign for the English Regions, said:

    'We are delighted that this all party committee has recognised that elected regional assemblies should have sufficient powers to make a difference, sp ecifically including direct responsibility for business development, learning and skills, neighbourhood renewal and transport policy and funding. The report also recommends that elected assemblies scrutinise government offices in the regions, not the other way round.

    'However, as the report reveals, the gap between rich and poor regions will only close when national policy responds more vigorously to, and prioritises, the needs of poorer regions, particularly when deciding on large infrastructure projects.

    'This is ground breaking work. This report from an party committee signals broad acceptance regions will only realise their full potential when Whitehall lets go and real power is devolved with the budgets to go with it'.

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