The British Government has failed to formulate a credible deal for us to leave the EU, and their discussions lack any public clarity with less than 450 hours to go before the deadline they have set out regarding our departure. Along with this huge gap, Parliament as a whole has also failed to hold the Government to account or come up with a credible alternative for our nation. For those of us who live in England or Ireland it is very disappointing that we do not have national or regional bodies that can stand up on our behalf and demand at least a delay to the departure. Welsh and Scottish residents on the other hand have in the last few days been able to take some comfort from their national Assemblies who have simultaneously called for a halt to the process. Their demand is of course also very welcome for those of us outside their two nations and it is concerning that the Government is trying to ignore this. Clearly what is missing is a similar call from Northern Ireland and England or its regions. A number of years ago I had the privilege of a senior role in the South East England Regional Assembly, representing charities and the voluntary sector and working alongside the business sector. I recall how at the same time Labour offered the North East region a chance to directly elect members of their Assembly. One of the reasons expressed by people who rejected the offer was that the proposed power to be given to the elected Assembly was insufficient to justify the impact and cost of the votes and there was also a fear that elected assembly members would be held accountable for decisions made by the Government. Then when the coalition came to power in 2010 they ripped up a number of structures including the regional assemblies that had been working reasonably well and helping to grow the economy on a regional basis. The coalition and the Conservative Government set about recreating some of the functions through the establishment of Local Enterprise Partnerships. Bizarrely the Government itself continues to operate with a regional structure intact and so if anything their dictated LEP structure is a poor geographical fit to their own internal arrangements. Along with the LEPs which are intended to be business led, there are a number of networks of local authorities that also operate on a regional basis, albeit following yet another set of geographical criteria. One could be positive and argue that with such a variety of structures and layouts, there is bound to be space for all sorts of creative ideas and policies to arise and to be formed. On the other hand one could question if the Government is determined to prevent any coherent challenges from arising across the whole of the UK and so discourages the idea of regions that are well defined, well-resourced and capable of holding the Government to account when it comes to such a chaotic mess as its Brexit plans.
One of the strengths of the Local Enterprise Partnerships and their predecessors, the Regional Assemblies is that the decision making takes place some distance from the dominant power brokers who run our political parties and although the parties were in control of the assemblies, they also included credible voices from businesses, the charitable and voluntary sector and also the environmental sector. One of the benefits of the environmental involvement was that they worked very hard to strengthen the proposals to build new homes in a manner that is ecological sustainable. Last week I attended a meeting that was part of the Sussex Chamber of Commerce which focused on the Construction Industry. It is clear that some of the ideas which were laid out as part of the South East Plan back in 2007 which was then torn up in 2013 would have moved us in the right direction, but now needs upgrading as some of the ideas did not achieve the outcomes as well as was hoped at that time. For the sake of our nation in terms of challenging the Government over matters such as Brexit as well as improving society that takes into account local needs, it is clear that we must revisit the principles that lay behind the regional assemblies. We need to consider if some form of organisation that brings together local politicians, small and medium sized businesses that are ignored by the Government and the local voluntary sector agencies could be formed to help us move into a better position on both local and national issues.