Unison joins regions debate

By Greg GrantRegional Secretary, Unison EasternREGIONALISM and regional identity are matters that are as relevant in the East of England as they are currently in any English region.

By Greg Grant

Regional Secretary, Unison Eastern

REGIONALISM and regional identity are matters that are as relevant in the East of England as they are currently in any English region.

Regionalism shows no sign of going away. We already have the first vestiges of regionalism with a regional assembly and regional development agency.

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Discussions continue at an advanced stage regarding the potential regionalisation of the emergency services, police, fire and ambulance.

Just before Christmas, the Government announced a White paper in the future regarding the reorganisation of local government, putting it firmly back on the political agenda. Reorganisation of the NHS is never off it.

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How, then, should particularly the trade unions respond to these changes?

Our starting point is always what impact these changes have on our members, and how possible further steps to regionalisation will affect them and impact on their livelihoods.

On the wide issues, trade unions have generally within the region supported the establishment of regional government if it is being done for the right reasons, eg devolving powers from Whitehall to the region. Providing it is not a smokescreen for cuts in public provision or a further delivery mechanism for more efficiency cuts, we are broadly supportive.

For further moves to regionalism to be meaningful, the “democratic deficit” has to be looked out. Put simply, regional institutions that make important decisions, whether it be on transport, housing or policing, should be directly elected and accountable to those who are directly affected by their decisions.

It is a well-researched fact that most people have a mixed understanding of what various levels of local government do and provide. The numbers of electors who participate in local elections has reached crisis point.

If people cannot relate with clarity to what happens in their locality in terms of service delivery, what will a regional tier of government add? The conundrum is that in certain circumstances there is a strong case on economy of scale grounds for certain services to be delivered at regional level, but how are people meant to relate to this?

Possibly more than structural change is needed. The proposed White Paper in the future is looking at the concept of “neighbourhoods” as a means of looking at new localism. This may be akin to something similar to our current parish councils but will be too small a concept to deliver public services in its own right, but may complement a different structure to that which exists currently.

To suggest the answer is a simple “yes” or “no” to any of these regional issues is to totally underestimate the nature of the issue.

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