referendum in their region on having a directly elected regional
assembly, local government and regions minister Nick Raynsford said
This opportunity comes with the launch of a soundings exercise to
test the level of interest in each English region - outside London -
in holding a referendum. Responses will be used as part of the
process leading up to a decision on which region(s) should be the
first one(s) to vote.
Mr Raynsford said:
'Elected regional assemblies will give people in the region their own
distinct political voice and a real say over decisions that matter to
them. But we have no intention of forcing elected assemblies on any
region, we believe that people should be given the opportunity to
make that choice.
'Our referendums Bill - currently going through parliament - does
just that. It gives the English regions the historic opportunity to
decide by allowing referendums to take place. Fundamental to this
process will be the level of interest in each region in holding a
'But this is all about choice. We recognise that interest in regional
government varies across the country. People in some regions will
want a referendum at the first opportunity, others will be content
for now with the current arrangements.
'That is why today we are asking for people in all regions to give us
their views. Over the next three months we want them to tell us
whether they want their region to hold a referendum. We also want to
hear from local authorities, local MPs and MEPs, regional chambers
and others including business interests and the voluntary sector.'
Details on how people can express their views are outlined in a
document published by ODPM today (see here).
At the same time the government is also seeking views on draft
guidance which the Boundary Committee for England will use when
undertaking a review of local government in a region(s) before a
referendum takes place. The review would recommend the best unitary
structure within the region for those areas presently with two-tiers
of local government.
Mr Raynsford commented:
'In regions where people vote to have an elected regional assembly,
the region will move to wholly unitary local government to ensure
that government remains streamlined. The boundary committee will
recommend whatever unitary structure it thinks best for the
'It is important that the recommended structure can deliver the
government's modernisation agenda and that the new authorities can
effectively engage and lead their communities and deliver quality
services. The draft guidance therefore suggests that this should be
part of the Boundary Committee's considerations when drawing up its
The deadline for responses to both the soundings exercise and the
consultation on the draft guidance is 3 March 2003.
Decisions on which region(s) should be subject to a review of local
government will be taken shortly after the Bill enabling referendums
to take place receives Royal Assent. This should allow the first
referendum(s) to be held during the lifetime of the current
1. Nick Raynsford launched the soundings exercise and consultation at
an LGA conference, Regional Devolution - The Next Steps.
He also made a written statement to parliament (copy below).
2. Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, Soundings exercise on the
level of interest in each English region in holding a referendum
about establishing an elected regional assembly is available from:
PO Box 236
0870 1226 236
3. Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill Local Government Reviews
Guidance Consultation is available from:
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
Zone 5/B1 Eland House
4. Copy of Nick Raynsford's statement to parliament:
SOUNDINGS EXERCISE AND CONSULTATION ON GUIDANCE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT
I am today launching a soundings exercise on the level of interest in
each English region (outside London) in holding a referendum about
establishing an elected regional assembly. I will be writing to all
Members in the English regions outside London about the soundings
exercise to invite their views. Copies of the document have also been
deposited in the Vote Office for convenience.
I am also publishing today, for consultation, a draft of the guidance
to the Boundary Committee for England on local government reviews.
Copies of the soundings and consultation papers have been deposited
in the House Libraries. They are also available on the ODPM web site.
Responses to both the soundings exercise and the consultation on the
guidance are requested by 3 March 2003.
The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill currently before
Parliament enables the Secretary of State, by order, to specify the
region(s) to hold a referendum about establishing an elected regional
assembly. Before the Secretary of State can order a referendum, the
Bill requires that the Boundary Committee for England has been
directed to carry out, and has made recommendations arising out of, a
local government review of the region. The level of interest in
holding a referendum will be a key factor in deciding where a review
is to be carried out. So this policy gives people a choice.
Our proposals for elected regional assemblies will increase
democracy, not bureaucracy. In regions where people vote to have an
elected assembly we intend to streamline government by moving to a
wholly unitary local government structure. Before an order causing a
referendum to be held in the region can be made, the Boundary
Committee will have conducted a review of local government in the
region and made its recommendations for the best unitary structure
for those parts of the region thatcurrently have both a county and