Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Institutional Change and the Challenge of Policy Coordination in the English Regions

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Institutional Change and the Challenge of Policy Coordination in the English Regions

Article excerpt

By contrast to major constitutional reforms elsewhere in the UK, in England's eight regions beyond London New Labour has favoured administrative decentralisation. This paper examines these institutional arrangements and assesses their capacity to develop a more integrated approach to territorial development. It confirms a growing awareness of the need to ensure greater coherence between policies to promote economic, social and environmental wellbeing. Nonetheless, a complex regional institutional architecture, inconsistent sector-based strategies, a lack of strategic leadership and blurred accountabilities hamper moves towards policy integration and the delivery of joint outcomes. Moreover, despite ongoing reforms, the absence of a clear regional agenda in a functionally designed Whitehall raises fundamental questions about the ability of sub-national bodies to work collectively to develop and implement a more coherent approach to regional policy.

In response to demands for self-government and practical policies to promote sustainable regional and urban development, considerable attention has been given in recent years to recalibrating the territorial administration of public policy in a number of EU states. Typically such rescaling is associated with the reorganisation of existing institutions and the creation of new ones, and the construction of multi-level, multi-nodal and networked forms of governance, which are intended to bridge different policies, tiers of government and public, private and community sector interests (see for example Wood and Valler, 2004; Herrschel and Newman, 2002; Brenner, 2003; Hooghe and Marks, 2003; Peters and Pierre, 2001; Keating, 1998). In the UK this trend is evident in the Celtic nations, where the post-1997 Labour government has replaced territorial administration with elected bodies and devolved powers and in Greater London, where electors have acquired an elected strategic authority. In the eight English regions outside London a more cautious path has been followed involving administrative decentralisation, in which regional institutions have been bolstered, but operate within policy and fiscal frameworks determined by central government.

Decentralisation is ostensibly founded in the belief that region-based institutions bring a unique strategic perspective to policy development and investment decisions and add value to service delivery (HMT and Cabinet Office, 2004). Whitehall's representatives in each English region, the Government's Regional Offices (GOs), have been charged with presenting a more consistent perspective on government policies with a regional dimension and working to align the activities of government bodies in the regions (HMT and ODPM, 2006). In 1999 Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were established to assist regions realise their economic potential and contribute to reducing regional economic disparities through the preparation and delivery of Regional Economic Strategies (RESs) (Boschma, 2004; HMT and DTI, 2001). At the same time nominated Regional Assemblies were launched, comprising representatives of local authorities and regional social and economic interests. They were to scrutinise the RDAs' activities and coordinate regional strategies and have subsequently become responsible for preparing Regional Housing Strategies (RHSs) and Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) (HMT and ODPM, 2005; ODPM, 2004). Alongside a bewildering collection of government executive bodies, such as the Environment and Highways Agencies, the Learning and Skills Council and Natural England, as well as local authorities and sub-regional partnerships, this 'troika' currently comprises the principal institutions in England's system of regional governance.

The 2002 White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice, brought forward proposals to improve decision making by encouraging high-level interactions between public bodies operating in the regions and securing greater synergy between regional strategies (Cabinet Office and DTLR, 2002). …

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