Dear Editor, Jon Walker (July 4th) may be right about devolution being a can of worms, but that’s only because the process is unfinished.
Why do we need English regional government? Because even the biggest local councils are too small to handle certain policy areas alone and Whitehall is often too distant to understand local circumstances. We need Government commitment to reform the House of Lords into an elected second chamber. English members elected via the eight English regions could then provide elected membership for regional councils able to exercise the sort of strategic planning, regeneration and transport powers needed in each region. As for England as a country, an English national council formed by the regions could also speak on purely English matters, avoiding tortuous and unworkable Parliamentary exclusions of the sort proposed by Ken Clarke MP.
Tory shadow Andrew Mitchell’s call (Post Letters July 5th) for more formal accountability from the new West Midlands’ Regional Minister, reflects the unfinished business of UK devolution; but reasonable observers recognise that Liam Byrne has been very active in meeting regional partners and pressing the region’s concerns. Given London and the South East always has the ear of Government, it’s surely a good idea – not mere spin – to give the West Midlands region a ministerial voice at the heart of Whitehall.
What is Conservative Party policy on regions? Saying they will simply abolish the RDA and “give it all back to local authorities” is a slogan, not a policy. Where will the necessary support for emergency economic aid – such as the response to the Severn Valley Railway flooding – come from? Advantage West Midlands played a major financial role in getting this highly valued tourist business back on the rails (literally). Waiting for Whitehall to respond would have probably closed the business for good. In the end regionalism is about the ability to respond to local need like this when the problem or service need is on a large scale.
Conservative policy gaps apart, while we await wider constitutional reform what regional arrangements do we need to back up Liam Byrne’s efforts and build on existing regional partnership work? With the Regional Assembly due to close in 2010, business, civil society groups and local government will still need a structure to guarantee continued working together on reasonably equal terms. Business and local government’s roles are guaranteed in the proposed changes. The Government will also need to ensure other interests can make their voices heard at regional level.
WMCC evidence to the recent regional government review supports the idea of a committee of key council leaders from across the region able to take a more strategic role, but other sectors need to have representation in any new strategic body.
Equally, there must be a structure for independent monitoring of a local authority leaders’ group and its major executive partner, the business sector led RDA. Whatever the weaknesses of the present Regional Assembly, it brings together a wide range of organisations independent of business and Government and able to provide a critique of regional policy from different perspectives. How will this be done after 2010?
We believe a Regional Civic Forum is required, backed by a modest amount of the resourcing now available to the assembly. This would allow environmentalists, social enterprises, trade unions, consumers, the voluntary sector and others, to engage with any new regional leadership body. Given its elected status, the new regional policy process should be led by local government, but allowing other stakeholders a walk-on part simply when endorsement is required will not work.
Civic society forums already exist to input into London, Welsh and Scottish government. We need something similar reflecting this region’s diverse urban and rural character, to do the same job in the West Midlands.
There is a wealth of experience across the region. A new regional civic forum can be part of making that available to any new regional policy process - and of creating a valuable point of dialogue with the Regional Minister and the Government.
Chair, West Midlands Constitutional Convention.
Not too late to help 1,000 hospice families
Dear Editor, A number of your readers may have been disappointed to be left out in the recent Great North Run ballot but Acorns Children’s Hospice can give them a second chance. For those who were not successful Acorns have a limited number of bonded places available to their supporters. So why not take part in this incredible event, get fit and help local children with life limiting conditions?
Thanks to the fantastic efforts of the 53 runners who have already participated in events this year, the 600 children and families who depend on Acorns will continue to receive the care and support they desperately need. But there are another 1,000 families that we need to reach so the ongoing support of those in our local area is essential.
If you would like to challenge yourself and make a real difference, why not take part in one of our running events? As well as the Great North Run we currently have places in the Birmingham Half Marathon (26th October), the Great South Run (26th October) and the 2009 London Marathon (26th April). Alternatively if you already have a place in a run, please use it to make a difference to local children by running for Acorns.
Please contact me for more information.
Lucy.Martin@acorns.org.uk. (01564 825023).
Insulation could be key to energy strategy
Dear Editor:, It is difficult to see how the crisis in the building industry will be quickly cured. However, one route to partial alleviation may lie in dramatically boosting publicity for the Government grants available for improving home insulation – and indeed in bolstering that programme and removing any Treasury cap on funding.
What is really needed is an unprecedented energy efficiency programme directed at Government and Local Government offices, and at both public sector and private housing.
Although installing insulation is a specialty, it is often carried out in conjunction with other improvements with the prospect of helping a wider section of the industry. Let the grants be as generous as needs be to stimulate take-up. The money will be better spent than on unemployment pay.
The Government is not to be blamed for falling house prices after an unsustainable rise. Nor is not to be blamed for an inevitable reduction in the standard of living when the terms of trade turn against us, and an exported aeroengine or consignment of pharmaceuticals buys less oil or natural gas. I think most of us can accept the need for belt tightening. But willing hands are rendered idle, and their product is needed.
Dick Lloyd Thomas,
From the sofa to reality
Dear Editor, To hear politicians’ condescending attitude to knife crime is not only insulting to the victims of knife crime but extremely distressing for the mourning families who have become nothing more than government statistics . MPs who sit in their guarded second home, in front of their plasma screen TV, cuddled up on their sofa with a king-sized john Lewis’s catalogue, with their stab-proof vest hanging from the kitchen door, don’t help.
Yardley Wood, Birmingham.