EERA Chairman joins our debate
By Sue Sida-LockettConservativeLIKE many Conservative politicians I am not a supporter of Regional Government and I look forward to a future Conservative government doing away with much of the regional quango state.
By Sue Sida-Lockett
LIKE many Conservative politicians I am not a supporter of Regional Government and I look forward to a future Conservative government doing away with much of the regional quango state. That is our party's national policy position and I fully support it. But until a Conservative Government is elected we have to work with the system which the current Government has introduced since 1997.
As the representatives of the largest party in local government, most Conservative councillors in the
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East of England have taken a similarly pragmatic view, believing that, however reluctantly, we need to engage with the Government's regional agenda and try to make it work for us on our terms.
And as Chairman of the East of England Voluntary Regional Assembly (EERA) I have tried to make the imposed regional agenda work as well as it can for all our local communities.
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Regional Assemblies tend to be very much in the firing line when the Government's regional agenda is under discussion. Of all the so called regional institutions including the Government Office, and EEDA, (the Regional Development Agency), EERA is the most open. All of our meetings open to the public, and all papers available on our website, which is where members of the public can ask questions. That kind of access is simply not available from the others.
EERA itself is also not a quango - it is an advisory body to Government. It is local authorities in the region working together, in close partnership with our key stakeholders from a variety of sectors. Elected members are nominated by their authorities as part of their roles as councillors. This is no different from the processes which local authorities are currently setting up in order to establish Local Area Agreements (LAA) or local authority nominations to Police Authorities.
The most controversial work of EERA has been in its role as regional planning body on housing numbers. Apart from the now statutory nature of its work there is very little which has changed. Local authorities previously worked through planning conferences for many years and if I am honest often fudged some of the difficult issues. SCEALA, the former regional planning body for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire famously once refused to come to a view as to whether the A11 or the A14 should be the top roads priority in East Anglia!
EERA, covering the six counties in the East, has just successfully concluded a very difficult prioritisation exercise which shows a authorities in the region.
So while I will never be a fan of regions, my work as Chairman of EERA has shown me that some of the bigger issues affecting ordinary people, such as transport and housing investment, have to be tackled at the right scale. And as long as the current Government insists on wanting to have a regional dimension to everything, I believe Conservative local politicians are correct to be involved in the regional agenda.
Sue Sida-Lockett is Chairman of the appointed East of England Regional Assembly and is also Deputy Conservative Leader on Suffolk County Council, representing Thedwastre South division.