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Hands off our region, Mr Blair

PUBLISHED: 19:01 30 May 2002 | UPDATED: 12:01 03 March 2010

REGIONAL government has finally reached the top of the Labour's political agenda – but it's not something we need in East Anglia.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced the government's plans to devolve powers to the regions last month – but our message to him today is clear – stuff the regions!

But they are fatally flawed – especially as far as East Anglia is concerned – and would end up taking power away from local people rather than devolving it to them.

As the Prime Minister visits East Anglia, The Evening Star today launches a series looking at the government's great new plan – regional government. Political Editor PAUL GEATER looks at where the plans have reached – and why they are fatally flawed.

REGIONAL government has finally reached the top of Labour's political agenda – but it's not something we need in East Anglia.

Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, announced the government's plans to devolve powers to the regions last month – but our message to him today is clear – stuff the regions!

But they are fatally flawed – especially as far as East Anglia is concerned – and would end up taking power away from local people rather than devolving it to them.

There are ten reasons why regional government is a non-starter for the eastern region:

n The region, as defined by the government, has no common interest. What do places like Luton, Hertford, and Basildon have in common with Ipswich, Felixstowe, and Woodbridge?

n The creation of regional government would see a widespread re-organisation of local government and the abolition of county councils. This was decisively rejected by residents of Suffolk and Norfolk ten years ago – they reckoned that the current two-tier structure was delivering good services and didn't want the government to fix something that wasn't broken.

n Regional government would take over the operation of emergency services like fire and police, making them more remote from, and less accountable to, local people.

The creation of the East Anglian Ambulance Trust showed how flawed this could be – it has taken several years for that trust to become as effective as the county-based organisations it replaced.

It only became truly effective when power was devolved back to county commanders.

n It is a myth to assume that regional government would take on some of the role of Westminster. Central government has never really given up power to any local or regional authority – it always retains a final veto.

n The reason for creating regional government is flawed – it has nothing to do with bringing power closer to the people, it is simply a sop to justify the creation of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly within the United Kingdom.

n Opposition to the proposals is coming from across the country – even areas which are thought to be in favour.

n Supporters of regional government cannot agree on the size of 'regions' – in the South West, Cornwall wants to be considered a region in its own right – claiming it is so remote it has nothing in common with large cities like Bristol.

n England has no history of regional government, no regional identities unlike European countries like Germany, or Italy. Counties in England do have historic roots – but have always been part of the large national identity.

n In East Anglia there is no great social cohesion. People tend to live their lives within 15 to 20 miles of their home or work – and for a special day out will head off to London. They may regularly jet off on holiday to other parts of Britain, Europe or the world, but don't routinely visit other parts of the region for a day out.

How often do most people from Ipswich visit Cambridge or Norwich for a "day out" unless they have family, friends or other specific links to these cities?

n Cambridge, being set up as the centre of the Eastern region, is very different in character from the rest of the region. Its technology boom has meant that it is a very rich city where houses are too expensive for many people to live there.

Its motorway and rail links to London are so good that no one who does live there needs to have any interest in East Anglia.

There is a real fear that any Cambridge-based regional bodies will be unable to see beyond the delights of the silicon fen.

Yet despite all these arguments against regional government, the spin-doctors have recently been moving into overdrive attempting to persuade the country that regional government will be good for us.

Deputy Prime Minster, John Prescott, is leading the charge towards regional government – aided by the government's Mr Banana Skin, Stephen Byers.

Few are convinced.


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