The region (sometimes known as Government Office Region) is currently the highest tier of local government in England. The powers of the regions are very limited and there are no elected regional governments. Historically the primary subdivision of England was into counties, which still exist in modified form. In addition, many local government functions are the responsibility of boroughs.
There are nine regions, each with a government office and a few associated institutions, including a Regional Development Agency (RDA). As there are no regional elections, local representatives on regional bodies are nominated by county, unitary authority and borough councils. London is a special case because it has an elected mayor and an assembly with powers in a number of policy areas. As in several other European countries, England's existing regions also double as European Parliament constituencies for the election of Members of the European Parliament.
The Labour Party Government announced that it wished to increase the power of government at the regional level, as part of the "devolution" that led to elected assemblies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and part of the concept of regions in the EU.
There is some strong opposition to the introduction of such assemblies, especially from the Conservative Party, but also from back-bench Labour Party MPs. Opponents of regionalism argue that instead of decentralising power from London, the new tier of government will simply take power away from county councils, and that the assemblies will be far weaker than those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is also resentment that the regionalisation policy is based on continental patterns of local government supported by the European Union and ignores the traditional primacy of the county system in England.
The government proposed to hold referendums in the three northern regions of North West England, North East England and Yorkshire and the Humber first. Some of the Labour government's critics considered this to be intended to increase the government's prospects of obtaining a complete set of "yes" votes by first winning referendums in regions which were most likely to be in favour, thus presenting the electorate in other regions with a choice between voting "yes" or missing out on favours which would be given to those regions which had done so. It has also been claimed by some that these regions were selected because they are traditionally Labour-voting areas, and so would be likely to return authorities supportive of the current government, and would continue to do so if and when a Conservative government was installed.
The date of the referendums was announced in July 2004 by Nick Raynsford, after the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister took soundings as to the level of support. The North East referendum was held on November 4 2004. It asked whether there should be an elected regional assembly in that region, and, as the assemblies are tied to local government reform, which pattern of unitary authorities they would like to see. The proposal was defeated by 78% to 22%.
Following the "No" vote in the North East, there now seem to be little chance of elected regional government being introduced in England outside London. John Prescott has announced that the other two planned referendums will not go ahead under the existing legislation.
The regions themselves have also been criticised as being largely based on those devised by the UK government in the Second World War for coordinating civil defence in England, and as too reliant on compass points for names. The borders of the regions have also been criticised for being too arbitrary.
Specific objections include:
- the North West region is too elongated, and Cumbria should instead be associated with the geographically closer North East;
- the Eastern region is too geographically diverse - from the marshlands of East Anglia to suburbs of London in Hertfordshire; and that it has little or no historical legitimacy, unlike the smaller traditional East Anglia region.
- the South East region is too large, in terms of both population and area; or that it is too small as three counties which were previously part of it (Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Essex) were combined with East Anglia to create the East of England, but these counties are similar to those which were left in the South East as they are all part of the London commuter belt; or that it is inappropriate to separate it from London.
- the South West region is either too large (Gloucestershire being considered a West Midlands county by some), or too small (and that Hampshire and Berkshire should be associated with it), or just insufficiently similar to Thomas Hardy's Wessex
- the Yorkshire and the Humber region excludes the Cleveland area, traditionally part of Yorkshire and includes the Grimsby and Scunthorpe areas which have been split from their traditional county of Lincolnshire, the rest of which lies in the East Midlands region.
Other suggestions have included a new Marches region, consisting of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Worcestershire; or that Cornwall should form a region in itself.
The government is committed now to the borders of the three northern regions, but could order a review of the boundaries in the rest of the country.
Other systems of regions
Standard Statistical Regions
Prior to the establishment of the 'Government Office Regions', there were eight 'Standard Statistical Regions':
The Redcliffe-Maud Report produced by the Royal Commission on local government reform in 1969 recommended the creation of eight provinces. In approximate terms, these were to be
- North East - as per North East England
- Yorkshire - as per Yorkshire and the Humber
- North West - as per North West England, excluding southern Cheshire
- West Midlands - as per West Midlands, including southern Cheshire
- East Midlands - as per East Midlands, less Northamptonshire
- South West - as per South West England
- East Anglia - Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, northern Essex
- South East - South East England and Greater London with Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, southern Essex
Britain in Bloom regions
Britain in Bloom divide England into 12 regions. They are broadly the same as the government office regions, except that Cumbria is a region in itself, and South East England into three - Thames and Chilterns, Southern England and a rump South East England.
The National Trust has 10 regional offices in England. These are
Subdivisions of England, List of subnational entities, UK topics
Last updated: 10-25-2005 01:13:28