He recently submitted a response on behalf of Localise West Midlands to a House of Commons Select Committee about the Coalition Government’s decision to revoke and abolish Regional Spatial Strategies [RSS].
A few highlights are selected here and the full seven-page text is available on request.
The report sets out the views of Localise West Midlands, a not for profit organisation which believes that economic development and government are inextricably linked and that decisions in both areas are best taken at as local a level as possible by citizens or by their democratically accountable representatives. For further information about LWM, its objectives and activities, see its website at www.localisewestmidlands.org.uk.
It was noted that there is much more to the RSS than housing. Regional Spatial Strategic planning should cover economic development, biodiversity, climate change – both adaptation and mitigation, resource use and waste, transport, air quality, minerals, general infrastructure, flooding and renewables.
Concern was expressed that the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies and related regional institutional infrastructure will disadvantage the region compared to other parts of the UK which benefit from devolved democratically accountable Government.
There might be a return to ad hoc decisions being taken at Westminster and in Whitehall with inadequate understanding of the issues, and little or no ownership of them in the regions.
This could lead to:
- a vacuum in terms of the policy resulting in an uncertain environment in which to take the major investment decisions;
- uncoordinated planning and friction especially at boundaries between Local Enterprise Partnerships and individual Local Authorities;
- the undermining of a joined up coherent approach which is required to promote sustainable development;
- an emphasis on the national and global to the detriment of moves, which have been starting to take place, to support a more localised and therefore sustainable approach to economic development;
- the exclusion of a wide range of views in the region outside the political and business elites.
It was noted that although the Regional Assemblies were not fully democratic they engaged a wide range of bodies in a way that ensured a much more grounded understanding of the reasons as to why decisions had to be taken.
The submission ended with a summary of LWM’s views. Recent events have confirmed that a focus on global economic competitiveness and credit-driven economic growth is not sustainable and very high risk in terms of social, economic and territorial cohesion across regions. Of particular concern is the impact of this approach for employment.
The idea that we can out-compete China and India in future high tech markets is a delusion. While they have, and will continue to have far cheaper wage rates, they are already developing very large graduate workforces, and increasingly we are seeing many higher skilled jobs moving to these and other countries with their workers able effectively to deliver many professional and administrative services via the Internet.
From the final section:
The way out of these problems is to decentralise fiscal and monetary policies so as to connect them more closely to the local and to focus on bringing together the demand and supply of goods and services so as to strengthen social, economic and territorial cohesion.
Interest rates need more accurately to reflect local and regional inflationary pressures.
New sources of finance such as local and regional bonds need to be promoted to finance local and regional investment, including housing, which could generate a huge number of hi and lower tech jobs, substantial new businesses.
Most importantly regional and local action has to tackle climate change by cutting carbon emissions.
This new ‘Green Deal’ [pilot project in Birmingham] could begin by funding decentralised energy production, storage, distribution and conservation. Such a programme would ensure high standards of insulation, extensive use of combined heat and power programmes. It would encourage the use of renewable to meet a new goal of every building being its own power station, to quote Colin Hines in Seeing Off the Credit Crunch with a Green New Deal; Colin Birmingham Post, Feb 2008.#
George Morran: Director of the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities (1991-98), Assistant Chief Executive Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, currently consultant specialising in regional governance, Vice-chair of Localise West Midlands, research associate at Aston University’s Business School and project director of the West Midlands Constitutional Convention.