We all remember the attempt by John Prescott to impose a regional assembly on the North East of England. Fast forward just over a decade and we now have a Conservative Chancellor offering combined authorities – and mayors – instead of an assembly. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
An article by Fraser Nelson appeared in the Telegraph a few days ago and it is one that appeared to receive no comment elsewhere – at least, none that I have seen. This article dealt with the apparent ‘bribe’ by George Osborne incapsulating the ‘imposition’ of ‘Mayors’ on areas that had, in 2012, rejected the idea. It has to be said, straightaway, that this idea of Osborne’s is on a par with Cameron attempting to present himself as a ‘True Blue’ Tory – both are fallacies.
While devolution of power is the reason proferred by our politicians for the creation of regional assemblies/combined authorities, with or without mayors, which sounds all well and good, there is an underlying reason; and that is the intoduction of the
balkanization regionalization of the United Kingdom.
When we look at Osborne’s intention, announced in the Budget, to create a combined authority headed by a mayor for East Anglia, it comes as no surprise to find that the bandwagon is rolling; as you will see.
It was but a year ago that George Osborne stood up in Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry and informed us that it would be an attempt to corral the North’s population of 15 million into a collective force that could begin to rival that of London and the South East; and that it would be “a collection of northern cities sufficiently close to each other that combined can take on the world“.
It becomes obvious, with a little research, that that damn elephant is still in the room – but then how can we expect mere hacks to recognise this; although I have to acknowledge that for the latter to notice anything that is not spoon-fed to them by their political ‘contacts’ is a step too far in logical thinking.
Let us not forget that this is the third attempt to create some form of regional government as inbetween Prescott and Osborne we had Hazel Blears, when she was Communities Secretary, with her attempt to set up ‘Multi-Area Agreements’ about which I wrote at the time.
Combined authorities are a legal structure that may be set up by local authorities in England and can be set up with or without a directly-elected mayor. The relevant legislation is the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. Combined authorities may be set up by two or more local authorities. They may take on statutory functions transferred to them by an Order made by the Secretary of State, plus any functions that the constituent authorities agree to share. The first combined authority to be established was the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, in 2011. Further combined authorities were established in the North-East, West Yorkshire, Sheffield and Liverpool in April 2014. New mayoral combined authorities have been proposed in the Tees Valley, West Midlands, and (in draft form) the ‘North Midlands’ (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire). Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Sheffield and the North-East will introduce a directly-elected mayor as part of their devolution deal.
As of February 2016 five combined authorities have been established, and a further three have been proposed. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority came into existence on 1 April 2011. Those in South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Merseyside came into existence on 1 April 2014, and that for the North-East on 8 April 2014. Established combined authorities are:
• The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, and Oldham).
• The Sheffield City Region Combined Authority (Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley, plus associate members: Bassetlaw, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales, North-East Derbyshire, Bolsover.
• The West Yorkshire Combined Authority, covering Leeds, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield. (York City Council is an associate member).
• The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton, Knowsley, Wirral and Halton)
• The North-East Combined Authority (Northumberland, County Durham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside).
Each of these authorities, with the exception of West Yorkshire, has agreed to establish a directly-elected mayor under its devolution deal.
There are plans for further combined authorities:
• West Midlands (Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Solihull; with Cannock Chase, Telford, Redditch, Tamworth, and Nuneaton and Bedworth as associate members)
• Tees Valley (Darlington, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stocktonon-Tees, Redcar & Cleveland)
• North Midlands (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Derby City, Nottingham City, High Peak, Derbyshire Dales, Amber Valley, Chesterfield, Bolsover, South Derbyshire, Erewash, North-East Derbyshire, Bassetlaw, Mansfield, Newark & Sherwood, Gedling, Ashfield, Broxtowe, and Rushcliffe).
Backtrack to the European Union’s original statistical breakdown of Member States: Nomenclature des unités territoriales (French) or as it is known in English: Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics (NUTS). From this we find a breakdown of the United Kingdom (opens in MS-Excel format, starts at 1601) into regions (level 1: ie, North East England (UKC); and then into sub-regions (level 2: ie, Tees Valley and Durham – UKC1); then into a further level (level 3: ie, Hartlepool & Stockton-on-Tees – UKC11; South Teeside (Middlesborough, Redcar & Cleveland – UKC12; Darlington – UKC13 and Durham County – UKC14)
When we look at already established and proposed combined authorities listed above and then compare them with NUTS we see the re-creation of ‘regions’ as designated. Eagle-eyed readers may notice that, where the North East Combined Authority is concerned, Northumberland, Tyneside and Sunderland are in a different ‘level 3’ area (UKC2) to Darlington and County Durham. This is because they can cross county council boundaries. This allows combined authority boundaries to reflect ‘functional economic areas’, meaning that they are not bound by traditional local government areas.
The 2009 Act gave county councils a veto over district councils doing this, which the 2016 Act removes, providing that a county or a district may join a combined authority. It will also permit county council powers to be transferred to a combined authority in respect of a district area which is a combined authority member. A county cannot be prevented from joining by its district councils, and a district cannot be prevented by its county councils. This is further complicated by the fact that under the 2016 Act local authorities may not be members of more than one combined authority; but there would appear to be nothing preventing a local authority being a member of one and an ‘associate member’ of another; and the Sheffield and West Yorkshire Orders specify that the associate members have no voting rights.
Where regionalization is concerned it is impossible to ignore The Committee of the Regions (CoR) – or as one commenter on twitter (@Akabilky) termed it: A Trojan horse of extreme stealth – and the part that it plays. From its website we learn that the CoR gives regions and cities a formal say in EU law-making ensuring that the position and needs of regional and local authorities are respected; and that the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament must consult the CoR when drawing up legislation on matters concerning local and regional government such as health, education, employment, social policy, economic and social cohesion, transport, energy and climate change (emphasis theirs).
What is obvious from the preceding paragraph is that the CoR is, in effect, undermining the UK government from doing that which it is elected to do; ie. govern. The power of government is thus being salami-sliced and then dispersed to bodies over which the people have no real control – ie, who when sent as a representative to the CoR was actually chosen by the electorate?
That our politicians can attempt to pass off faux devolution as power to the people is despicable; that they should so do while hiding another agenda (obeisance to Brussels) is doubly despicable.
But then how few of us knew that Cameron had a plan ‘for every stage of our lives’ but, as with all politicians, did not spell it out for us in his last general election manifesto – which just proves that besides being a liar, Cameron is also a charlatan.
Where the democracy of this country is concerned, such as it now is, without some form of rebellion by the people they will find themselves bound in chains from which there will be no escape – other than by armed rebellion.
That the subjugation of the people has not only passed by the media, but also those who profess to be Brexiteers, puzzles me not – neither does it puzzle me not that those who write about democracy (and the need for it) appear to have failed to pick up on the matter of combined authorities. But then have not all groups been ‘talking amongst – and to – themselves?
As a final comment on ‘democracy’ – and admittedly it is accepted that true democracy (direct democracy) requires the people to be sovereign and thus have the ‘final say’ where government policy is concerned – the statement by Ayn Rand has come to be fact:
Whose fault is that, if not the uncaring, disinterested and unknowing electorate, I hear you ask? Well, in my book it sure as hell is not the fault of the electorate – the fact the electorate is still of that frame of mind, at least for the past 2/3 years, is the fault of those for whom The Harrogate Agenda has become their own ‘private property’; and who appear to have made no effort, whatsoever, to promote it.
As a footnote – just saying………………………