Elected Assemblies and Regional Government in England

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2002 National Delegate Conference
9 May 2002

This Conference notes that the creation of democratically elected Assemblies for the English Regions will have a major influence on the lives of trade union members. In those regions of the United Kingdom which now have devolved assemblies or parliaments, UNISON members can be rightly proud of the part it played in campaigning for these bodies, the significant, tangible gains won and the greater status and priority afforded to the public services.

In contrast the low levels of turnout at local and national elections, continuing existence of a myriad of quangos, and the economic disparity between regions of the UK are all issues that this Conference regrets, and believes should be confronted. In doing so Conference reaffirms that UNISON’s support for directly elected regional government is dependent on the democratisation of central government functions and agencies rather than the erosion of local government powers.

The long-awaited publication of a White Paper on Regional Government in England is warmly greeted by this Conference, as an opportunity to review and develop firm proposals that lay a foundation to reinvigorate government, devolving power, empowering the people. Conference believes that our union should grasp the opportunity to influence future structures of government, which will profoundly affect the operation, and fulfilment of this union’s key objectives and campaigns.

In doing so, this Conference notes the excellent work already carried out by a number of regions in working with and supporting the emerging regional bodies – in particular the new Regional Chambers. Conference also supports the work many regions have been undertaking to promote and advance public knowledge and opinion regarding future assemblies.

Conference instructs the National Executive Council to draw upon this regional and local base of experience and wisdom and use it to present proposals to Government, in advance of the White Paper, for a model for Regional Governance to provide for:

1)A democratic structure to direct the work of the Regional Development Agencies, Learning and Skills Councils, the Regional Office of the Government, statutory agencies and quangos within the Regions;

2)Democratically elected Regional Assemblies which will have a statutory obligation to consult on policies with stakeholders and social partners, namely the Regional TUCs, the CBI, voluntary sector organisations and Chambers of Trade and Commerce;

3)A direct link with the European Union’s Committee of the Regions;

4)The devolution of powers from the Government for the management of the implementation of strategic regional policies relating to transportation, planning, environmental control, housing, public protection issues and healthcare;

5)A co-ordinating role with all representative forums, namely local councils, MPs and MEPs to provide for regional cohesion dialogue in discussion with national and European government bodies;

6)The maintenance of effective local government without any deterioration of existing powers.

The UNISON response should refute the White Paper’s widely predicted contention that a pre-requisite for the inception of elected regional assemblies is the predominance of unitary local government in the region. A blanket abolition of county councils and district councils would be detrimental to thousands of our members and the public they serve. UNISON believes that regional stakeholders themselves should determine regional structures to suit local circumstances.

Conference further instructs the National Executive Council to provide fair and proper resources to all regions engaging with devolved structures with recognition that structures in Northern Ireland and Scotland in particular require direct UNISON engagement with government similar to the requirements on the national centre.