Paul Kirkman joins the debate
ESSEX people deserve proper representation at the appropriate level of decision- making. Local decisions need to be made at neighbourhood level and national decisions at Westminster.
By Paul Kirkman
ESSEX people deserve proper representation at the appropriate level of decision- making. Local decisions need to be made at neighbourhood level and national decisions at Westminster. This leaves a lot of decisions that need to be made at an intermediate level.
There is nothing new about this: SERPLAN (South-East Regional Planning) fulfilled such a role in spatial planning before EERA (East of England Regional Assembly) came into being. This system actually cut in half the area in which the EADT is published, with Essex in SERPLAN and Suffolk in SCEALA. I cannot remember this system being criticised at the time.
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The Tories set up regional offices over a decade ago to deal with the complexity of rolling out central decisions in the region. For years, the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) was administered regionally, but without any regional oversight whatsoever. Civil servants were making what were political decisions, involving hundreds of millions of pounds, with only the minimum of ministerial accountability.
Similarly, housing investment was administered regionally by civil servants spending hundreds of millions of pounds, choosing which area was to receive what level of funding. I was told at the time by a civil servant that, to help them, a committee of 'the great and the good' in housing was to be set up to advise them. These meetings were to be held in private with no accountability at all.
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Now regional housing investment priorities are decided by the Regional Housing Board. This Board has three elected councillors serving on it who are, through our political parties, accountable to every council in the region. It just so happens that Essex is very well represented by Susan Flack from Uttlesford, Trevor Miller form Chelmsford and myself from Basildon.
Soon the Regional Housing Board will become part of the Regional Assembly and have wider representation. The amount of investment we have considered for the next 2 years is over £400m. Our decisions are in the form of advice to ministers.
The East of England Development Agency controls the flow of investment in the economic development area. Its strategy and business plan are scrutinised by the Regional Assembly, who are statutory consultees.
Spatial planning is run through the Regional Planning Panel of the Regional Assembly. This has wide representation from across the region with elected councillors in the majority. The East of England Plan was agreed at Southend over a year ago by the full Assembly, with a Tory chair. In my view this was at least as democratically accountable as anything SERPLAN ever did.
A lot of mischief is talked about regionalism by people who either want to attack the Government or protect their own unaccountable power. I would like to see all the decisions that are taken decided by the closest level of government as is reasonable. I do not want decisions affecting the community I represent taken in private by unaccountable administrators. In my view, the best method to achieve this is the ballot box.
Paul Kirkmam is leader of Essex county council's Labour group and represents Basildon's Pitsea division on the authority