Examination of Witness (Questions 260
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
260. Do you know of any other country in the
European union which has a similar fragmented form of devolution?
(Mr Raynsford) The Spanish example is one where there
are very wide variations in the degree of devolved autonomy given
to the different autonomous regions with Catalonia and the Basque
region enjoying far more extensive devolved powers than . . .
I think it is true to say that the devolution experience in Spain
has been very successful in relation to Catalonia and has helped
to resolve the very longstanding
261. When were you last in Catalonia, Minister?
(Mr Raynsford) About six months ago and I have been
a frequent visitor, I am very familiar with the region.
262. Lots of us are and I can assure you that
there are some problems in Catalonia that we would not want to
see reproduced within the regional structure of this country.
(Mr Raynsford) I think it is fair to say that there
were substantially more serious problems during the Franco era
when the aspiration of the Catalan people for a degree of autonomy
263. Most people would regard a fascist government
as being different from a democratic government.
(Mr Raynsford) I think it is one of the great triumphs
of the democratic government in Spain that it has given a measure
of devolved autonomy to regions.
264. Can we move on to another issue with regard
to the powers of regional assemblies because one of the concerns
always is that when the powers have been recommended by central
government, central government find lots of reasons why it should
hang onto its powers and lots of reasons to pull in powers that
they need from local government.
(Mr Raynsford) These are some of the very difficult
and big issues that we are considering in preparing the White
Paper. The basic framework and principle is that regional assemblies
should involve the devolution of powers from central government
and from bodies that currently exercise responsibilities in the
regions and may be answerable to ministers but are not otherwise
accountable, so creating a framework for accountability within
the regions with the devolution of powers from on top, not drawing
up powers from local government. However, inevitably there is
going to be an interface between local government and the regional
assemblies and getting that right so that it does not inhibit
local government powers and local government initiative but ensures
a coherent relationship between local government and the regions
is one of the very important issues that we are considering.
265. So they are primarily going to take over
the as currently administered regional?
(Mr Raynsford) That, in our view, will be one of the
core elements for regional assembly.
266. So regional offices of government will
go where there is regional assembly?
(Mr Raynsford) The experience in London is that there
is a continued need for a government office but much scaled down
compared with previously because certain functions still require
a government response and that is one of the issues that obviously
has to be covered by the White Paper.
267. Where regions choose not to go for an elected
assembly, do we have assurances that decisions like planning decisions
are only going to be made by elected bodies?
(Mr Raynsford) That again is one of the issues to
be covered in the White Paper and Lord Falconer obviously will
be saying more on the issue of planning when he publishes his
planning Green Paper in the reasonably near future.
268. Does your department make any assessment
of regional disparities in public spending and see whether they
(Mr Raynsford) We obviously take broad account of
the patterns of expenditure, particularly those which relate to
our own department's activities in each of the regions. We will
be announcing later on today the local government settlement for
next year which obviously will be a very significant component
in that because that will govern the total spending of local authorities
in each region of the country but, as I said earlier in response
to your earlier question, there is a collective government interest
in this and I expect my colleagues in other government departments
who have a direct interest in the relevant issue to be as much
involved in this as I am.
269. Does anyone look at the overall impact
of regional disparities in spending?
(Mr Raynsford) The overall patterns of spending are
indeed kept under review and that is one of the concerns which
both the Deputy Prime Minister and my Secretary of State have
very much in their minds.
270. Who keeps them under review?
(Mr Raynsford) As I mentioned, this is a collective
government responsibility because there are different lead government
departments in relation to different activities. It is our role
to set an overall framework for regional governance, it is the
Deputy Prime Minister's role to oversee that work and also the
ongoing work of the government offices in the region for which
he is responsible. That is the current framework and that is how
we try to monitor current arrangements and bring forward proposals
that will create a better framework in the future for regional
271. Who makes an assessment of overall patterns
of spending in relation to regions?
(Mr Raynsford) Ultimately, the Chancellor is the final
272. So it is the Chancellor now and not the
Deputy Prime Minister?
(Mr Raynsford) No, I have mentioned that this is a
matter for collective government responsibility and, if it is
a question of overall decisions on financial matters, it will
be quite rightly the Chancellor's preserve.
Sir Paul Beresford
273. Does the same group assess regional quality
of output of services? What I am really getting at is that I presume
you would agree with me that it is a mistake to judge the quality
of service by the amount of taxpayers' money spent on it.
(Mr Raynsford) We judge the quality of service by
performance indicators and it has been one of our main concerns
to ensure that there is a proper framework for performance management
and we will be saying more about that and how we can improve the
measurement of performance and indeed improve the standards of
performance in local government in our local government White
Paper. While that is a separate matter from input of government
finance, there is no question that resources are crucial to the
delivery of services. Without adequate resources, it is not possible
to deliver certain services.
274. Is it fair that the north-west has 25 per
cent less in education spent on it then Scotland?
(Mr Raynsford) The variations between regions are
obviously significant and they can reflect a number of different
275. Is that fair?
(Mr Raynsford) I leave that to others to judge.
276. Do you consider it is part of your responsibility?
(Mr Raynsford) Scotland is not part of my responsibility.
277. Do you consider regional disparities in
spending to be a matter of concern for you?
(Mr Raynsford) Disparities in the English regions
are a matter of concern to me and I look at them both in relation
to the local government settlement that I have been working on
a great deal in recent weeks and also in relation to our approach
towards regional governance that I have been outlining, but I
have no responsibility for Scotland and Wales.
278. Do you have any proposals to scrap the
(Mr Raynsford) As I say, I have no responsibility
for those wider issues which clearly engage both Scotland and
279. If you have a responsibility for the regions,
do you not feel you should have a view?
(Mr Raynsford) I am primarily concerned with creating
an appropriate framework to allow the English regions to operate
within a framework that they have the opportunity to determine
through a referendum and that allows the scope for each region
to develop as effectively as it can to enhance its economy and
therefore reduce disparities that currently exist. That I see
as a very important responsibility but that does not extend beyond
England in the case of my job.