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North East maintains its ‘voice’ in Central Government

Following the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and Government Offices in 2010 there were – and there remains - concerns that regional policy co-ordination and networking with Whitehall would suffer.  However, thanks to the work of Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University, the North East of England is succeeding in maintaining a ‘voice’ within central government.

Every region lobbies central government to ensure that the needs and interests of their population are represented at a national level. The North East is currently the only English region with a formal Cross-Government Group set up by the Department of Communities and Local Government.  The Group brings together more than 15 central government departments and agencies with a footprint or activity within the North East, with representatives from the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) and the voluntary sector. The Group cannot decide or set policy, but since 2011 it has provided a unique structure for quarterly meetings to exchange ideas and discuss strategy on a range of relevant topics.

One member, a BIS civil servant, has said of the Group:  “It provides a useful forum to share updates on policy developments and shared agendas, as well as an informal opportunity to develop closer working arrangements on office locations, civil service employment, the take up of apprenticeships and future policy initiatives.”  It was described by another member, representing the region’s voluntary organisations, as “valuable and making a difference”

Professor Shaw’s research, funded by the Millfield House Foundation, was the first in-depth, empirical study of the implications of the loss of regional-level governance and coined the term ‘Common-Sense Regionalism’. The research examined specifically how the North East could maintain an effective voice given the scale of the public expenditure cuts and the range of economic and social problems it faces.

It took into account the views and opinions of more than 60 stakeholders and concluded that there was still a need to retain co-operation and collaboration on a larger than local basis for functions including skills, economic development, housing, transport, public health, tourism and culture. The recommendation from the research report that there was a need to develop a new flexible network that links Whitehall and the regions was accepted and resulted in the Cross-Government Group.

 

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