Regional Assemblies in England
The regional assemblies of England were originally a group of indirectly elected regional bodies that were established by the enacting of the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998.
There were a total of eight regional assemblies known originally as chambers, one for each region of England with the exception of Greater London which had chosen an elected mayor and assembly in 1998 for its form of regional government.
The eight regional chambers of England, became known as regional assemblies, the title ‘regional assemblies’ never had any legal status.
All eight regional chambers in England were abolished between 31 March 2008 and 31 March 2010 and some of their roles and responsibilities were transferred by the newly created Local Authority Leader’s Boards.
Greater London continued with a directly elected London Assembly and is part of the Greater London Authority.
The original intention of, and the role of Regional Assemblies was to ensure that public opinion, particularly related to business development was directed to the regional development agencies. As the Regional Assemblies developed their role was significantly enhanced in order to take on the role of scrutinising their individual regional development agency. They were charged with co-ordinating and developing business partnership working and social, economic and environment policy development. In addition, they assumed the responsibility for lobbying and participating in discussions with UK government departments and the various strands of the European Union. They also took on the responsibility from the County Councils of England of regional planning and were tasked with developing strategies for regional spatial (planning) and transport strategy.
Each chamber had adopted the title "regional assembly" or "assembly". They were:
- East of England Regional Assembly (abolished March 2010)
- East Midlands Regional Assembly (abolished March 2010)
- North East Regional Assembly (abolished March 2009)
- North West Regional Assembly (abolished June 2008)
- South East Regional Assembly (abolished March 2009)
- South West Regional Assembly (abolished May 2009)
- West Midlands Regional Assembly (abolished March 2010)
- Yorkshire and Humber Assembly (abolished March 2009)
In May 2002, the British government published a Parliamentary Bill also known as a White Paper, Your region, Your Choice. This White Paper detailed the government’s plans for the establishment of Elected Regional Assemblies. It was envisaged that the Regional Assemblies would be responsible for regional strategies covering economic development, planning, transport, sustainable development, tourism, culture, housing, waste management and the environment. It was proposed that Regional Assemblies would be financed by way of a grant from central government, with the powers to raise additional revenue from a local authority precept on the council tax.
The draft bill proposed the following structure:
- The assembly would be a body corporate with a distinct legal identity.
- Each assembly would be composed of between 25 and 35 assembly members elected by the Additional Member System.
- The assembly would select one member as the Chairman and another as Deputy Chairman to preside over its debates.
- The assembly would have an Executive (cabinet) composed of a Leader and between two and six Executive Members.
The draft bill would have given the assemblies the following powers:
- Promotion of economic development
- Promotion of social development
- Promote health, safety and security of the community
- Reduce health inequalities
- Enhance individual participation in society
- Improve the availability of good housing
- Improve skills and the availability of training
- Improve the availability of cultural and recreational activities
- Improvement and protection of the environment
- Additional functions and duties that the Secretary of State thinks appropriate
Elections to the Regional Assemblies were to be contested by an Additional Member System form of proportional representation, similar to the elections being used to elect members to the London Assembly and the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments.
Referendum & Abolition
The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 made provisions for a series of local referenda to take place in order to create such assemblies, and to replace the established system of local government that existed. Three referendums were piloted, one in the North East, one in the North West and one in Yorkshire and the Humber.
In July 2004, it was announced that the referendums would take place on Thursday 4th November 2004. But in July 2004, the government announced that only the election for the North East England Regional Assembly would go ahead on that date. It was thought that this region was the most likely to vote in favour of having an elected Regional Assembly. However, the voters rejected the assembly by 696,519 votes to 197,310 votes.
The overwhelming rejection of the voters led the government to abandon the idea of regional government in England outside of London.
Following the abolition of the regional chambers, Local Authority Leaders’ Boards took on the responsibility for scrutinising Regional Development Agencies and Single Regional Plans. In June 2010, the new coalition government announced plans to remove funding from the new boards and to remove their statutory functions. The boards continued as voluntary associations of council leaders’. Regional Development Agencies were abolished on 31 March 2012, their functions were taken over by smaller Local Enterprise Partnerships which were not based on regional boundaries.