Regional Government : A Far Better Option

The Public Accounts Committee, a Select Committee of the House of Commons with responsibility for holding the government to account in terms of value for money for the delivery of public services, recently conducted a review of Local Enterprise Partnerships.

The summary of their report is as follows:- “The 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in England have so far been allocated £9.1 billion through Growth Deals to drive economic growth in their local areas, with another £3 billion allocated by other means. We welcome improvements to LEP governance and transparency since we last examined these issues, but there is still a long way to go for all LEPs to reach the rigorous standards we expect. We remain concerned that LEP boards are not yet representative of their local areas and business communities and that local scrutiny and accountability arrangements are not strong enough considering the significant sums of funding that LEPs manage.”

“The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the Department) is ultimately responsible for securing value for money for taxpayer funding which LEPs manage. But its decision not to evaluate the Local Growth Fund means it has no understanding of what impact spending through LEPs has on local economic growth. LEPs have also continued to underspend their local growth funding allocations every year since 2015-16, calling into question their capacity to deliver the complex projects they said were critical to economic growth in their areas.”

This is a damning indictment on the competence of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in this area. To have no understanding of what the impact has been on local economic growth of spending £12BN through LEPs illustrates a dramatic failure in accountability. It may be that the policy is performing well, just that the Department has no evidence to support this. Similarly, if the policy is a failure, then the Department has no evidence to support this either, or, presumably, any capability to take remedial action where necessary.

The Public Accounts Committee has no responsibility for policy and does not comment on policy matters. These aspects fall strictly within the government’s remit. There are, however, clear indications of policy shortcoming in this whole area. In terms of accountability, both financial and democratic, systems could be simplified and enhanced by the creation of a regional government for Yorkshire. At the same time financial responsibility would be moved to a more competent body than the “Department”. A regional government would be totally representative of its region, that would be the reason for its existence. A regional government would have the scale and support network to deliver highly complex projects for the region whilst being capable of supporting, assisting with and integrating more localised projects.

There are so many benefits of a regional government, yet this government has chosen to reject “One Yorkshire”. Given the respective records of the government and “Department”, it is probably not too difficult to see why but we should not accept this rejection. We need regional autonomy to protect us from national failure and to provide a decent future for our region which the failed Westminster system seems intent on denying us.

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