Friday 15 October 2004

Regional Assembly Votes Postponed

The North East will go it alone in the vote on Regional Assembly in November after the government announced yesterday that the referendums in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber would be rescheduled, following concerns expressed about postal voting in these areas. The government is, however, forging ahead with the vote in the North East because it said there is strong support for all-postal ballots in the region. This announcement came with the publication of the Draft Bill on the proposed powers of Regional Assemblies.

Some of the new powers outlined in the Bill include:

SKILLS AND TRAINING: appointing the chair of the regional Skills Partnership and five members of each of the four regional Learning and Skills Council, and having an input, via the partnership between Learning and Skills Councils and ONE, into adult skills and workforce development

TRANSPORT: Following on from last week's Transport White Paper, the assembly will have the power to make improvements to rail services, or to identify savings from reducing rail services from reducing rail services that might be used to fund alternative transport provision.

PLANNING: As announced in the 1992 White Paper the assembly will have draw up "regional spatial strategies". Moreover, consistent with an announcement earlier this year, and confirmed in the Bill, the assembly will also have the power to overrule local planning decisions where these are inconsistent with the regional strategies it will prepare.

SMALL BUSINESSES: Overseeing, through ONE, Business Link which was previously the preserve of the DTI.

The Government has included a general power that will allow it to confer extra powers on assemblies in the future without the need for further legislation. The Bill also makes provision for the region's business leaders whereby they will be able to feed directly into the assembly's policy-making procedures via a "stakeholder forum".

Welcoming the publication of the Bill, Professor John Tomaney, Chair of Yes 4 The North East campaign said: "The quest for powers doesn't end here. We will be continuing to push for more powers to be devolved to the region as part of the ongoing consultation process." The current unelected North East Assembly also welcomed the Bill, saying that it would help the people of the region make an informed decision in the referendum. However, it confirmed that it would continue to work with Ministers and Civil Servants to push for more powers in advance of a referendum on 4 November.

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This fourth edition of the bdaily xtra looks into some of the issues connected with the regional assembly and asks whether it is capable of bridging the divide between the rich and poor regions of England... more >