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SURVEY FINDS 'LITTLE BEING DONE TO ENSURE NORTH OF ENGLAND IS READY FOR REGIONAL GOVERNMENT'

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A new report* by independent think-tank, the New Local Government Network (NLGN) published today has found that pub...
A new report* by independent think-tank, the New Local Government Network (NLGN) published today has found that public bodies in England's three northern regions are doing little to prepare themselves for Elected Regional Assemblies (ERAs), with most intending to 'firefight' the issue as and if it arises. Reflecting on the evidence gathered in the report, Are we ready for Regions? the authors conclude:

'There is currently a lack of engagement with the regional agenda. Many key players have not 'bought into' the regional project - whether it is in terms of being involved in the push for sustainable economic development through developing an economic policy to improve productivity in their region, or developing strategic work by the regional tier.

'It is no surprise - given the established role of local agencies as delivery agents for strategic decision makers in Whitehall - that there is limited engagement However, this is a two way-street. Our findings tell us that consultation has not reached as far as it might. It appears to be restricted to those 'in the loop' and that loop is too small.'

The report, by NLGN's head of research, Warren Hatter and former NLGN researcher Kate Turney, is based on a series of interviews conducted with key individuals working in the public sector in the three 'frontline' regions: the North East, the North West and Yorkshire Humberside. The interviewees included council leaders and cabinet members, local authority directors of planning, education, social services and housing, chairs of police authorities and a primary care trust, and senior representatives of the Regional Development Agencies and Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs).

Typical of the responses given to the authors' key question on the extent to which plans were being put in place for the potential arrival of ERAs were: 'Not a great deal' and 'None'. A council leader illustrated this more vividly however, in terms of the need to wait and see:

'Even if there is a successful referendum it is going to be several years before there actually is an elected assembly in place. I think there is plenty of time to look at transitional issues then'.

Other themes focused on by the NLGN survey include: local government restructuring, the potential future impact of ERAs, awareness and knowledge of the regional issue, and interviewees views on the 'emotional' readiness of other key players in their region. With the latter, a number of respondents refer to the lack of leadership in their region, with a PTE representative observing how this might affect the receipt of new powers:

'At the moment there is a serious leadership vacuum If you give an ERA sufficient powers you will attract a calibre of people that will want to change things but it depends on the design [of the ERA]'.

* The report is available here.

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