Can Miliband’s vision of regional ministers give economy a boost?
23:46 08 April 2014
“The voice of the English regions will be at the heart of Labour decision-making”, shadow minister for the cabinet office Michael Dugher has declared.
If his party wins power he claims there will be an “authentic voice” for the East sitting in cabinet “banging the drum”.
Regional ministers are not a new idea for the Labour party. When it was last in power we had an East of England minister. But critics questioned how much they actually did with no official status and no weight in government.
When David Cameron got the keys to Number 10, the post went into the bonfire with the regional development agencies. The only roles to survive were the Wales and Scotland ministerial posts and that, Labour says, leaves England out. The regions just have a minister for cities and a minister for Portsmouth.
So will the new ministers have more power? Mr Dugher is adamant the minister for the East will have a key role working with the Leps and local authorities to bring in investment.
Chris Starkie, managing director of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, cautiously welcomed the move. “We are generally supportive of measures which will help increase the influence of local areas within central government,” he said.
But he added it would be important to see more detail on how the new role would work.
Great Yarmouth Labour candidate Lara Norris was enthusiastic about the idea, claiming the infrastructure and growth needs of Great Yarmouth had been ignored for some time and having a regional minister who better understood the needs of the area could only be helpful.
“I do feel slightly sorry for the minister if I am elected as I will be knocking on their door every day asking for a better settlement for the constituency that Parliament forgot,” she said.
Unsurprisingly the man she needs to unseat, Brandon Lewis, a minister in the department for local government, disagrees.
“Creating a new cadre of regional politicians won’t do anything to promote jobs or economic growth,” he said. “The old government office regions are now redundant. These are the same failed old ideas from politicos from the last Labour government.”
Norwich South MP Simon Wright said power needed to be shifted from Whitehall to a lower level than regions.
“Cromer has very little in common with Watford, yet the two towns were previously lumped into the same enormous region for economic development. For the same reason, I’m not convinced that a minister for the East of England would be of any tangible benefit for Norfolk,” he added.
“Our county has benefited most when all MPs have spoken with a united voice, and I believe this is the approach most likely to deliver for Norfolk.”
The Labour candidate in his seat, Clive Lewis, warned the devil would be in the detail.
“It’s important the policy doesn’t impose a ‘one size fits all’ approach that only caters for combined authorities and larger cites.”
But he said: “With central government setting the strategic objectives, it should be left to cities and regions to judge how best to achieve them. We, here in Norwich, know best how to improve our lives. We have a huge pool of local expertise and talent that we need to let loose. This policy will help enable that.”
Should we have a regional minister? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk