Tag Archives: NWDA

Federalism in the UK and how do we govern England

There is some talk in the press this week about the growing need for federalism within the government of the UK. The argument goes that, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming Scottish Referendum we will be moving towards a more federal approach of government.

The problem is that around 84 per cent of the UK population lives in England, and there is no appetite for an English Parliament. So what are the options, and what are the lessons?

Will it be Regions?

In his excellent book, Walter Menzies talks about the in-joke in Whitehall of TAFKAR – the areas formerly known as regions. In 2010, one of the first acts of the Coalition Government was to dismantle the regional bodies in England. Even the use of the word ‘region’ was abolished. Everything was now ‘local’. This policy move has been under-researched in my opinion, but my sense is that it was driven by some councillors who had a fundamental dislike of regional housing strategies and boards telling them what to do. This dislike was, I suspect, especially found in the more prosperous semi-rural council areas who resented being told what to do by the nearby urban centres. The new Localism policy tried to fill the void with some planning guidance and incentives for development, but the house building shortage is a measure of its lack of impact.

However, the previous Labour government also fumbled the ball on regions. The trend seemed to be unstoppable but then we had the no vote in the North East. At the heart of government someone got cold feet just before the vote, and overnight a promise was made to the media that the vote would be changed to ‘reduce bureaucracy’. The new question was, which would you prefer – counties or regions – but you cannot have both. OK, the people said, we’ll keep what we’ve got.

Will it be Mayors?

Another response that still has some supporters is for more elected mayors, even though some of the areas that have tried them have later voted to go back to traditional councillors. This policy has been more researched and commented on than regional governance, and for the most part is not seen now as a strong contender. For me, the idea of elected mayors tried to put personalities above structures, and confused the effectiveness of Mayors of London as individual politicians without taking account of their additional legal powers.

Will it be Cities?

The idea of city-regions, roughly based on the old metropolitan counties but with a strategic influence beyond, has been gaining ground for some time. The recent development of Combined Authorities has been led by Greater Manchester and is spreading out in subsequent years with Liverpool, Leeds and elsewhere. These are new local authorities, being additional to the existing cities and boroughs that sit within them. So far these new authorities could be called a tidying-up exercise of all the various joint boards and arrangements that had to be invented when the metropolitan counties were abolished in the 1980s. Their competences include transport, waste and economic development. However, the ambition is that they provide a ready-to-roll vehicle for any new powers and resources that might flow to the urban areas outside of London.

England within a Federal UK?

So, with 84 per cent of the population in England, let us try and imagine who sits around the table of a Federal UK meeting. The easy bit is – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London.

And then we have – the ‘rest’, the ‘provinces’.


Curiously we are also the majority at the table, but you would not know that from the discussions so far, nor from the existing balance of powers. City-regions are now a strong contender for the other seats around the federal table, and in terms of population there is a strong democratic case. However, we need to remember another dynamic within the previous Labour government when the Countryside Alliance organised a mass march through London. Despite the fact that rural areas were more subsidised than urban areas, the government’s willingness to listen to the needs of cities chilled considerably.

This time around, as cities and urban areas we need to make sure we get our seats at the federal table. To do this effectively and to avoid being tackled to the ground we need to learn how, from the 1980s onwards, various hostile interests have got ahead of us and taken our rightful place. It is politics, so we should not be surprised. And not caught off-guard this time.

Finally, if anyone suggests that UK Federalism and fair city-region representation can be sorted by reforming the House of Lords, just think ‘long grass’.

Published today – the RENEW Northwest Collected Works 2005 to 2008 (free PDF, 400 pages)

Embargoed to 00:01, Thursday 29 May 2014

RENEW Northwest was the region’s centre of excellence for regeneration from 2005 to 2008. It worked with thousands of professionals in design, construction, housing, economic development, neighbourhoods and more and encouraged better regeneration through multi-disciplinery working in the interests of communities, the environment, the economy and society throughout the region – urban and rural, deprived and more affluent.  Much of the RENEW Northwest learning is contained within over 400 pages of great advice and help to professionals involved in all aspects of regeneration and renewal. Free to download here (PDF), much of the advice is as relevant now as it was when it was produced. 

From Liverpool to Manchester, from Crewe to Carlisle, great work was found, supported and celebrated. The former staff have scoured their computers and attics to put all that excellent material in one place for the benefit of everyone involved in regeneration.

Phil Barton, former Director of RENEW Northwest said, “In this age of public sector austerity, it is more important than ever that professionals, agencies and local groups work effectively together across sectors, professions and geography.  RENEW Northwest pioneered new approaches and the achievement of better results by encouraging learning, good practice and professional development.  RENEW’s legacy lives on and this archive is a significant resource for the region which we are delighted to make more widely available.” 

Tony Baldwinson, former Head of Knowledge, Design and Innovation at RENEW Northwest said, “There is so much to choose from in this treasure trove. The Ladders in Regeneration group was especially important in making sure no-one was excluded, not just from the outcomes but also from the jobs within regeneration. Everyone will find something of use to their work here.” 

Notes to editors:

1. The RENEW Northwest project was funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency from 2005 to 2008. Its Board included the Government Office North West and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), as well as the private sector, community groups and universities.

2. The book is free to download as a PDF, using the Open Government Licence administered by UK National Archives.

3. The full website address is https://tonybaldwinson.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/renew-northwest-collected-works-2005-to-2008-9780957260610-v4.pdf