Monday, July 19

Small is Big in the North East of England

I was recently asked by The Northern Echo write a piece as Chairman of the Darlington Branch of The Federation of  Small Busisnesses on the issue of the elected regional assemblies.
This Blog will return to the subject of regionalisation in future postings. As well as the hidden agenda of Government busisness support agencies.
I wrote:
Small businesses in the North East of England represents a big element in the economic life in the 'region'. Politicians these days are well aware that without the contribution small businesses make to the economy, quite simply there would not be any economic growth. This is particulary the case in the North of England.
In the last decade, eight giant  companies  have  left the North East  or reduced their operations, resulting in a loss of 5,000 jobs'. Small businesses in the North East on the other hand  are providing the meaningful growth in the financial well being of the North East. Over 60 per cent of small businesses in the North East who responded to a recent  detailed survey expected to expand their business operation in the next twelve months.
A prosperous North East in which business can grow is vital.  There is, though most people are unaware of it, a Regional Assembly in existence now, so how, if at all, would the creation of an Elected Regional Assembly give  smaller businesses in the North East additional benefits. 
Almost unnoticed whilst  small business people have been focused on growing or indeed  surviving in there business the North East has become 'regionalised'.
Briefly,  the recent history to regionalisation is that  in May of 2002, the government published a White Paper on the regions. It proposed introducing Elected Assemblies for the eight English Regions - subject to the agreement of the British people in local referendums – delegating  functions to them from central government authorities, and giving them some powers. What those powers are has yet to be fully explained by the government.

According to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the main sponsor of this White Paper, the idea of English regionalism has been his personal dream for more than 30 years and from the general thrust of his White Paper, it would indeed seem that his dream originated from a well-founded  desire to "bring decision-making closer to the people".
A line that Mr Prescott  has been very  keen to promote in person on his frequent visits to the North this year.

At the Annual Conference of the Federation of Small Businesses, in March, delegates representing the 185,000 members debated in detail the effects of regionalisation and concluded by a majority of some 80% that there was no benefit for business people in the governments plans. Decision making, it was concluded would not be more business friendly as a result of Mr Prescotts so called '' home rule'' plans. 

The key issue is, will the creation of new politicians create new resources from which businesses can grow ? By converting the existing Regional Assembly to an elected one sounds as though the people of the North East are getting a better democratic deal. But how will  all  these new politicians in the new elected assembly  in their new purpose built debating chamber together with their doubtless new large support staff actually provide the tools vital for economic growth. Will the consequential loss of Durham County Council and other major changes to local authorities  actually make any difference. Only when the Government has published to details of the powers that will be given to Regional Elected Assemblies will any assesment of the the effects on the business community be possible.

The fact is that regionalisation in the North East is occurring any way, the unelected regional assembly will continue to act as the body through which the European Union will funnel 'Structural Funds'. So what difference will an elected Regional Assembly make to the process of business in the North East. Probably none, but the North East RDA One North East will doubtless convince us otherwise.
As always I am greatful to the writings of Dr Richard North, in this case 'Regionalisation a Democracy By-Pass' was most helpfull. Dr North is also a prolific blogger  is particularly recomended.     

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