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For Yorkshire ‘the Scandinavian centuries were a defining period’

Stewart Arnold writes:

Matthew Townend, a Reader of English and Related Literature at York University, has just published a book ‘Viking Age Yorkshire’ which I can thoroughly recommend as a hugely useful addition to the growing literature on the history of Yorkshire. Worth a read!

I attended a lecture by Dr. Townend in the Mansion House, York yesterday as part of the city’s Jorvik Viking Festival which picked up several interesting extracts from his book and started to answer a few questions about Viking age Yorkshire.

It’s impossible to summarise everything, after all the book runs to over 300 pages, but a few things stood out to me.

Firstly, although the name’ Yorkshire’ is a slight anachronism when it comes to Viking Age history (‘Yorkshire’ is not mentioned until the 11th century), the area or political unit it designates is not.

Secondly, having been established as a Viking kingdom for around 200 years, ‘Yorkshire’ was conquered and settled by the Anglo-Saxons or the ‘English’ as they called themselves. Essentially, ‘Yorkshire’ was colonised by the English from around the mid 10th century. A process that continued to the period of the ‘Harrying’ over a hundred years later.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that the Vikings gathered in Jorvik for an assembly or  þing (thing). However, although now lost, Yorkshire ‘boasted at least one example’ of this: a site named Tingwala or Thingwala near Whitby, recorded in the 12th century but now lost. It is not beyond imagination therefore to think that a Viking parliament or þing for Yorkshire may well have existed.

Fourthly, Dr. Townend concludes ‘the Scandinavian centuries were a defining period, not only on account of the events and developments of the period itself, but also for the regional sense of self, and sense of difference, which the period consolidated and bequeathed.’

All in all a fascinating lecture.

 

 

 

The Redcar conundrum

Chair of the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, Nigel Sollitt, writes:

As the general election approaches and candidates are selected across the country, the situation in Redcar throws up an interesting anomaly. The two recently formed regionalist parties, Yorkshire First (YF) and the North East Party (NEP) on the face of it could both be expected to put up candidates in the Redcar constituency. Both parties campaign for devolved power but whereas YF believes Redcar should be represented by a Yorkshire Parliament, NEP have plans to bring the people of Redcar under the same parliament as those of Newcastle.

The situation has arisen due to two measures imposed by the government, the Local Government Act 1972 (LGA1972), which restructured the boundaries of areas administered by local authorities, and the creation of Government Regions (GRs).

LGA1972 did not abolish traditional counties. It is therefore fact that the traditional county of Yorkshire still exists and that any town, village or piece of land that was part of Yorkshire prior to that Act coming into force in 1974, such as Redcar, is still part of Yorkshire now. Unfortunately, because those local authorities refer to the areas they administer also as ‘counties’, it has caused much confusion over the word and many people now believe, wrongly, that it was traditional counties that were altered or even eliminated. Yorkshire has been particularly adversely affected by this.   We suffered the abominations of ‘Cleveland’ and ‘Humberside’, both now thankfully gone, along with parts of our county being placed under the administration of local authorities bearing such names as ‘County Durham’, ‘Cumbria’ or even ‘Lancashire’ and ‘Greater Manchester’!

The introduction of GRs complicated the situation further. Again, the government paid no respect to the loyalties and identities of people when they decided which local authority areas would be included in which GR and as a consequence of this, parts of Yorkshire such as Saddleworth, West Craven and Sedbergh & Dentdale found themselves in the North West GR whilst former Startforth Rural District, South Stockton, Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland were placed in the GR of the North East.

The overall effect of this Westminster meddling is that, instead of Yorkshire being a clearly identifiable integral entity in all respects as it should be, the government has fragmented traditional Yorkshire between various alien local authorities and unnatural ‘regions’, thereby administratively separating Tykes of many settlements from the bulk of their historic homeland and county brethren in the GR of Yorkshire & the Humber. But despite the name of the GR or local authority, those places all remain parts of Yorkshire, including Redcar & Cleveland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redcar_and_Cleveland !

Redcar is situated in the territory of the former Brythonic kingdom of Ebrauc, the first of the ancient kingdoms to become part of the Anglo kingdom of Deira, the original name for Yorkshire https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mOa7BAAAQBAJ&pg=PT24&lpg=PT24&dq=deira+yorkshire&source=bl&ots=vu9HxPzrJP&sig=Dah0WUFMw-fv-aVI5C71K4T0nPg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=GrqxVJmyDNLLaPnvgMAB&ved=0CCIQ6AEwATgK#v=onepage&q=deira%20yorkshire&f=false . It has therefore been an intrinsic part of the heritage, culture, and history of Yorkshire for fourteen centuries. Compare such depth of identity to the mere twenty years since the North East GR was imposed upon the people of Redcar and it clearly puts into perspective where the loyalty and identity of Redcar folk lay! This is demonstrated by such facts as every year on 1st August they fervently celebrate Yorkshire day and last year actually hosted the Yorkshire Ridings Society for their Yorkshire Day ceremonies http://www.yorkshireridings.org/news/2014/08/redcar-highstreet-was-packed-today-when-yorkshire-day-fell-on-market-day-but-this-resultedin-a-bumper-turnout-for-the-annual.html , that they proudly support Yorkshire County Cricket Club and that since LGA1972 there have been many calls from Redcar for the area to be returned to Yorkshire administration including Councillor Chris Abbott’s call for all south Teesside to embrace their Yorkshire heritage and Councillor Tristan Learoyd’s call just last month for a referendum for Redcar & Cleveland to have closer Yorkshire ties rather than joining a combined Tees Valley authority with which nobody identifies http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/war-words-redcar-cleveland-council-8313601 .

I understand NEP intends to contest a dozen or so seats within the North East which comprises 30 parliamentary constituencies in total. Three of those 30 constituencies are wholly in Yorkshire (Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland and Redcar & Cleveland) with a further two being largely in Yorkshire (Bishop Auckland and Stockton South). Seemingly, this leaves more than twice as many North East constituencies that are wholly outside Yorkshire as there will be NEP candidates to stand in them. Why then, would they choose to contest a constituency that is bound to cause unnecessary conflict with a fellow regionalist party?

Whilst the Yorkshire Devolution Movement supports NEP and regional devolution in the North East, we must protest that the North East starts on the north bank of the river Tees and that anywhere between the Tees and the Humber is Yorkshire. It therefore follows that if any regional devolution party is to stand in constituencies between those two rivers, it should only be a party that stands for Yorkshire!

 

Nigel Sollitt, Chair, YDM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As blindingly obvious statements go, this is up there! ‘English devolution is once more on the political agenda’

Lord Haskins writes in the Yorkshire Post that English devolution is once more on the political agenda. His acute observation cannot be faulted, nor his point that ‘Yorkshire, with a population of 5.3 million, also has a strong popular identity’. However, he lets himself down in his call for  federation of Yorkshire LEPs. He talks about this body demonstrating ‘competency and accountability’, but then nowhere goes on to explain how this is to be achieved. The history of the RDA in Yorkshire(which Haskins seems to want to recreate) was never one of accountability hence its unpopularity with Conservative politicians amongst others. He is dismissive of regional assemblies (and this from the man who Chaired the hapless ‘yes4Yorkshire’ campaign in 2004) not appreciating that the accountability for the LEPs he is seeking would be created in a single stroke with the setting up of such a body. In short, an interesting analysis but does little to further the devolution debate in Yorkshire.

Liberal Democrat MP David Laws comes out in favour of devolution to Yorkshire

From Lib Dem Voice: http://www.libdemvoice.org/devolution-must-go-beyond-westminster-43792.html

Just a pity it seems the direction of the Liberal Democrats, through Nick Clegg’s obsession with city regions, is totally contrary to the views of David Laws MP.

David Laws was sitting beside William Hague yesterday during the announcement and added a note of disagreement afterwards:

“Devolution and localism must go beyond Westminster. Up and down the country, citizens want change that reflects their local needs and circumstances.

We cannot have a debate about devolving greater powers to nations without also considering how we give local areas more power.

If we agree it is right to give the 5 million people in Scotland and 3 million people in Wales a greater say over their local services, then we cannot ignore the 5 million people in Yorkshire who have the same rights to local democracy and empowerment

It is disappointing the Conservatives are not supporting our proposal for ‘Devolution on Demand’ which would give more powers to the English cities, counties and regions – especially places like Cornwall and Yorkshire.”

YDM blogger impressed by Yorkshire First conference

 

Wayne Chadburn from Penistone, who has contributed to the YDM blog in the past, has allowed us to reproduce his own blog piece from a couple of days ago, outlining his reasons why he is resigning from the Liberal Democrats and joining Yorkshire First over the issue of devolution to Yorkshire.

 

The post @LibDemVoice refused to publish

This morning I sent what would be my final post to LibDem Voice. It was to highlight why my brief sojourn with the Lib Dems was ending and why I was throwing my full support behind Yorkshire First.  As I expected, they refused to post it on the site.  They were good enough to tell me this.  However, I thought I would post it on here – not that it will get the readership it would have got had it got on LibDem Voice – nor possibly the plethora of negative comments. It is effectively my resignation letter from the Lib Dems.

I apologise for some repetition from my previous post.

I wrote on this site in March that I had switched from the Labour Party, which I had been a member of for more or less 27 years, to the Liberal Democrats. I did this with my eyes wide open and genuine positivity. I believed (and to some extent still do, particularly in relation to a number of the people in the party I’ve been in contact with) that the general views of the Liberal Democrats resonated with me more than the current Labour Party who I believe have become a party of micromanaging dinosaurs who secretly (or openly in the case of certain ex-shadow attorney generals) despise the mere mortals that elect them and speak mainly to the Westminster bubble.

What I have come to realise over the last few months is that, nationally at least, the Liberal Democrats aren’t much better. When joined I didn’t expect a fanfare or flowers or anything like that. I did expect maybe a membership card (or even a number!) and a general welcome to the party and maybe some contact from my local organisation. I had to contact the national party so I could ask whether my membership had been processed (the money certainly was taken from my bank account) and ask for a membership number so I could properly register on this site. I had no contact from the local party until my first post on Lib Dem Voice when I received some contact from next door Sheffield (I’d like to favourably mention in particular Joe Otten and Laura Gordon). If the Liberal Democrats want to keep a membership and rise from the current crisis maybe they need to treat their members and supporters better and actually make them feel welcome.

I can handle being ignored. I can handle maybe the local party having very little organisation because it is almost defunct. I got used to that in the Labour Party. What become the final straw for me in my short dalliance with the Lib Dems is the general disregard at the top, which treats its membership as a commodity not a partner. I attended the recent regional (Yorkshire and Humber) conference in Leeds at the beginning of November. I was particularly excited by the motion tabled by the Calder Valley PPC (who I have a great deal of time for) calling for devolution to Yorkshire – something I’m particularly passionate about if you read some of my posts on this site. This was roundly supported by the regional party. Then we hear from Mr Clegg and his persistent trumpeting of city regions. Effectively riding roughshod over his local party.

On Saturday I returned to Leeds as an interested but anxious observer at the first conference of one of Britain’s newest political parties – Yorkshire First. What I saw was ex-Lib Dems, ex-Labour, ex-Tories, even ex-UKIP members and those who have never been party members passionately talking about the future of Yorkshire and how it would fit into a more de-centralised United Kingdom. The difference being that the party leadership actually listened engaged and took on board the views aired rather than haughtily dismissing them. The atmosphere was one of welcome and openness. The views opined those of de-centralisation, social cohesion and fairness.

I now see the Lib Dems, like the other two major parties, as being a symptom of what it wrong with UK politics rather than a cure. My disillusionment in politics in general had reached its zenith shortly after the local Lib Dem conference – even in the Lib Dems there was over centralisation and micromanagement from the centre. I can understand the interest shown in UKIP by those disillusioned. However to me UKIP are a backward looking party which defines itself by what it dislikes. Yorkshire First are a party that is defining itself by what it likes and is forward looking and positive. I have therefore decided to throw my support behind them and end my brief membership of the Liberal Democrats.

In an election between the Lib Dems, Labour, Tories and UKIP I shall still be supporting the Lib Dems as given the choice they are certainly the best choice from the four. However if I am going to be honest with myself and my local community and actively support a party it has to be a party that values its members and wants to do things the right way. For me that is Yorkshire First.

I know many will say “so what” and throw the flip flopper label at me. I will take that on the chin because I believe I’ve finally found the real deal and I can already feel the disillusionment disappearing.”

 

Today is the 1,012th anniversary of the Saint Brice’s Day massacre, when King Æthelred the Unready ordered the killing of every Dane in the Kingdom of England

There are historians who follow this blog and if any can bring further light onto this event, particularly in a Yorkshire context, it would be interesting to read.

A view from Catalonia on their independence vote

As most will have noticed an informal vote on independence for Catalonia was held over the weekend which has showed more than 80% in favour. The non-binding vote went ahead after Spain’s constitutional court ruled out holding a formal referendum in the autonomous north-eastern region.

Catalan leader Artur Mas hailed the poll “a great success” that should pave the way for a formal referendum.

A Catalan independence supporter wrote to us yesterday:

 Over 2.300.000 votes. For having been an ‘illegal’ consutation defying Madrid’s prohibition it wasn’t that bad, was it? ;-) People flew many miles to vote, drove and did all they could to do it. It started with people voting in Sydney,… There are people who are still voting today.
 
It was such a touching day!, long queues, old people crying,…

This is an article from a British writer who’s been líving here for many years. I hope you like it.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/10/catalonia-independence-referendum-example-to-world#start-of-comments

I hope you get all you want as well and the devolution is soon a fact!

Opinion: Limited Devolution may be ok for Manchester, but Yorkshire deserves better

Alisdair Calder McGregor, Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Calder Valley, has kindly allowed us to reproduce his blog piece from Lib Dem Voice. He writes that limited devolution might work for Manchester but Yorkshire deserves better. His view is somewhat at odds with those of his party leader but we welcome them as a very laudable contribution to the devolution debate. Talking of which don’t forget to watch BBC Look North’s Special on BBC1 at 22.35  More Power for Yorkshire? Tim Iredale asks if people in Yorkshire should have more say about the key decisions that affect their lives. The attractiveness of a Yorkshire assembly is given a good airing I understand.

 

Opinion: Limited Devolution may be ok for Manchester, but Yorkshire deserves better

The news that George Osborne is offering further powers to Manchester (if – and only if – they turn their backs on the democratic will of the people and implement an elected Mayor in spite of Manchester voting “No” to having one) has been enthusiastically accepted by the Manchester Labour Party, because, as with all local Labour parties, they very much prefer a government that cannot be scrutinized and wields power in secret, unaccountable meetings.

Yorkshire deserves far better than this Tory & Labour stitch-up of an end-run around democracy and accountability.

At the Yorkshire & Humber Regional Conference this past weekend, our outright opposition to the “city region” model for Yorkshire was made quite plain. The conference passed the motion outlined at the bottom of this post, calling for a radical devolution of power to Yorkshire as a region.

As is quite clear from this motion, the Liberal Democrats in Yorkshire & Humber do not want, and will reject, any attempt to further carve up Yorkshire to Tory & Labour gerrymandered specifications.

We will reject any form of devolution that increases the unaccountable city regions, which merely centralize power away from the town, parish & community councils that form people’s real attachment to government in Yorkshire.

If you want devolution to work, it has to be done by consent of the people, and people will not accept rule by Leeds. I lived for 7 years in Bradford – try going there and telling people they are going to be part of Leeds City Region – and then start running!

There is no reason to delay devolution in Yorkshire. We want a Yorkshire Parliament, we want it elected by STV, we want equivalent powers to Scotland, and we want it now.

The motion from last weekend’s Yorkshire and Humber Liberal Democrat regional conference reads:

Conference Notes that:
1. Spring 2014 Liberal Democrat Federal Party Conference in York passed Policy Paper 117 “Power to the People”, which included proposals for regional devolution
2. The Liberal Democrats and their precursor parties have a long-standing commitment to democracy and devolution
3. The current City Regions and combined authorities lack democratic legitimacy and accountability
4. Research by the University of Huddersfield indicates that 75% of Yorkshire residents are in favour of Yorkshire regional devolution
5. The population and GDP of Yorkshire is roughly equivalent to that of Scotland

Furthermore, Conference believes that:
i. Yorkshire forms a single recognisable region, with a common culture, dialect, and identity which is one of the strongest in the UK
ii. Power is best exercised by those directly elected by and accountable to the people, and at the closest possible level to the people

Therefore, Conference calls for:
A. Regional Devolution for Yorkshire, consisting of a single directly elected parliament
B. Election to the Yorkshire Parliament to be by STV in multi-member constituencies
C. Powers devolved to Yorkshire to be equivalent to those devolved to the Scottish Parliament
D. A corresponding reduction to the size of the federal parliament of the UK in Westminster once devolution is complete
E. The powers and funding of regional and sub-regional Quangos to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament
F. Abolition of the offices of Police and Crime Commissioners for the Yorkshire Police forces, with the powers to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament

Conference further calls for:
a. The Yorkshire Parliament to be responsible for conducting the consequential reorganisation of local government within Yorkshire, towards a single tier of primary authorities
b. Town & Parish Councils to be retained and strengthened, and unparished areas encouraged to form Town, Parish and Community Councils
c. A presumption that as much power as possible shall be devolved to these authorities

* Alisdair Calder McGregor is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Calder Valley.

Musings on Elected Mayors for ‘Northern Powerhouses’

Many thanks to One Yorkshire Voice for allowing us to repost her blog piece outlining why she thinks power should not be concentrated in Yorkshire’s large cities.

November 4, 2014

Musings on Elected Mayors for ‘Northern Powerhouses’

Ever get the feeling politicians aren’t listening? Sorry, sorry, stupid question. This post could last forever if I go into detail on every single thing. My main criticism today is this plan for an elected mayor of Greater Manchester which emerged yesterday.

Two years ago, Manchester and many other cities around the country (Wakefield included) said no to an elected mayor in referendums. Only Bristol wanted one and I’m not sure how that’s worked out for them. Nevertheless, yesterday George Osborne announced that Greater Manchester would have an elected mayor, probably from 2017 onwards. Admittedly, it’s a slightly different proposal than the one previously offered but it’s still an elected mayor and the people of the Manchester area seem to be getting no choice in the matter.

The fact that the leaders of the ten councils affected have agreed to the proposals is worrying in itself. In my experience, politicians only vote for something which is good for politicians (side note: all the council leaders in this area seem to be white men) and I hear dissent is already coming from areas like Trafford.

For me, I suppose, it’s about the concentration of power and the guzzling up of resources. If – as seems likely if Greater Manchester is deemed a success – the experiment was replicated in other areas of the North, there is no prize for guessing what would happen. Power concentrates into one single area. Wakefield already suffers from this with the number of West Yorkshire initiatives centred on Leeds. A ‘Greater Leeds’ area would inevitably take in Wakefield. Not only are we their closest neighbour but as far as transport links etc go, we are fundamental to any success in terms of joined-up policy. Now, personally, I’m sick of being lumped in with Leeds. Wakefield is on its way to thriving again (despite the best efforts of our council to hamper such progress) and I don’t want us to become an outpost of a ‘Northern powerhouse’. Every city and town in the North should be considered its own powerhouse.

So I dislike the prospect of linking areas together with little regard for their individuality. However, I do favour more regional devolution based on assemblies rather than the concentration of power in one person in one area. Only this way can cities like Wakefield get decent representation alongside their more statuesque neighbours (as an aside I DO NOT agree with Labour’s regional senate proposals but that’s an argument for another day).

On the one hand, I appreciate the government finally recognising that the North needs to be seen as something other than ‘not the South East’. On the other, these decisions are so important that I don’t want George Osborne agreeing to them with a bunch of white, mostly middle-aged men, who I suspect don’t have the best interests of their areas at heart.

Excellent post from our friends at the Wessx Regionalists

Wessex Regionalists

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reasons to be Regional

Two common objections to regionalism are that another tier of government means more politicians and more cost. It needn’t in fact mean either.

First though, let’s be a bit more broad-minded. We need government to be more effective and efficient – but to achieve that you need to invest, politically in the right people and financially in the right resources.

More politicians aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Fewer politicians mean fewer ways to scrutinise government and hold it to account. Over the past 50 years we have seen repeated cuts in the number of local councillors, in the range of services they oversee and in the power that ordinary, backbench councillors have to make decisions. So, to sum up, we have less democracy. We have less ability as voters to influence what public money is spent on.

More cost isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cost is not the same thing as waste. If we want better services, or even services no worse than those we have now, then they have to be paid for. But a system of government that pretends it can reduce costs by centralising decisions is missing something. It is missing the fact that centralised solutions tend to be standardised solutions that might not be what we need or want. They will be shaped by what the centre thinks we should have, and the centre’s thought in turn will be shaped by lobbies whose outlook we may not share.

Back to the devolution debate. Politicians are looking for easy answers, by empowering existing local councils, or at worst setting up joint authorities, or maybe sweeping up all the powers into the hands of a metro-mayoral Caesar that bankers can trust to do the right thing. But localism, as we have learnt, is a lie. Localities are only being empowered to make the decisions that the centre would have made anyway if it had had direct control. And even in theory, there are practical limits to localism because big, strategic decisions are beyond the capacity of a fragmented local government system. Councils aren’t going to get powers to re-shape the NHS or the railways. They aren’t going to be able to make laws or set income tax rates. Is the devolution debate in England a sham, just like localism?

Of course it is, if a new tier of government is ruled out on ideological grounds. Had that been the starting point, the Scottish Parliament and the London, Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies could never have been created. The number that matters isn’t the number of tiers. It’s the overall cost of government – and the extent to which government is seen to deliver what it promises.

Will regionalism mean more politicians? That, ultimately, is a political choice. One way forward is to argue that if two-thirds of decisions are moved out of Westminster into regional hands, you then cut the number of MPs by two-thirds to match. Since most Assembly Members would live within commuting distance of the assembly venue, there’d be none of the nonsense of flipped second homes in London necessitated by having a constituency hundreds of miles away. (In a smaller House of Commons, everyone would get a place to sit down if they turned up for a popular debate, which isn’t possible today.)

So on to cost. A regional assembly will cost more, won’t it? Here are five reasons why not. It comes down to political will. A Wessex assembly is likely to be run by politicians with enough sense not to impose unnecessary burdens on the electorate and so the savings below are savings they are likely to make. They are savings that an assembly government led by the Wessex Regionalist Party would certainly prioritise.

  1. Moving government out of London cuts costs

That’s why much of the back office work is already done in places like Wales or Northumbria. Labour and property costs are lower there and there is very limited need to travel back and forth to London. But devolution means the top jobs have to move out too. Some of the mandarins who currently advise Ministers in Whitehall will instead be advising a Wessex government. These are jobs that command big salaries. That spending power is then put into the Wessex economy, not the London economy. It’s also worth noting that savings aren’t confined to the political sphere – the media would also have to become less London-obsessed and there would be a bigger role for the regional newsrooms and production centres busy following debates in the regional assemblies. Lobbyists too would need to decentralise.

  1. Integrating the region manages costs better

Regional administration already exists. What is missing is regional government. Most government employees do not work in London. The work of government is carried on in the regions through a tangle of quangos and local offices, all of which could be rationalised as part of an integrated regional government. Something similar happened in local government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the various Improvement Commissioners, School Boards, Boards of Guardians and the like were replaced by unified councils levying a unified rate. Integration saves money. The Welsh Government has merged three of its environmental quangos into one and delegated some of its own powers to it in order to save £158 million over the first ten years. That’s money that can then be spent on services or used to reduce taxation.

It’s often said that an assembly will need an expensive new headquarters. That’s not how public sector property works. The stock of public buildings turns over constantly as older buildings are replaced by new ones with lower running costs. Eventually, the same money will be spent on new buildings by the UK as by a Wessex assembly.

Meanwhile, Wessex civil servants will go on working in the same places that they worked as UK civil servants. Assembly meetings can be rotated around our leading cities if that’s seen as a way to prevent any one of them fancying itself as a new London. Winchester is our historic capital, Bristol is our largest city, Bath already has its Assembly Rooms. But if we’re serious about a new, decentralised approach to government then we need to re-think the whole idea of a capital city. Along the lines of a network that allows all areas to have a share in the work of governing Wessex. That means departments locating where their main customers are, or the geographical focus of their work. It means politicians being willing to travel and able to see things not just from their own constituents’ point of view.

This isn’t revolutionary. Germany and the Netherlands are two examples of countries where the work of government is shared out. Germany’s Constitutional Court is in Karlsruhe, not Berlin – deliberately distanced from the other institutions of government. The Dutch capital is Amsterdam but the seat of government is The Hague; the broadcasting centre is Hilversum.

  1. A democratic region delivers better value for money

The point of devolution is the power to do things differently. Not only does regional administration already exist, so too does a regional budget, even if it’s currently split between numerous government departments. A Wessex assembly can see to it that the money is used wisely, setting its own priorities, which may well differ from those handed down from Whitehall. With law-making powers too, an assembly can really tailor services to what its area needs.

  1. A strong region can defend its budget

When Michael Gove was Education Secretary, he dreamt up a plan to fund every school in England directly from Whitehall, cutting out local education authorities. The bargaining power of a single LEA against the might of Whitehall is limited. The bargaining power of a single headteacher is non-existent. Regions big enough to stand up to Whitehall bullying will get that money out of London. They will have the resources to commission their own research to challenge official figures and to brief the media with it. It will no longer be a one-sided dialogue. Regions with taxation powers will be guaranteed a degree of financial freedom from Treasury interference.

Local government services have borne the brunt of austerity, while the UK State protects its own. The Welsh Assembly too has seen its finances cut but within its budget it has found the money to increase local government spending by 3%, at a time when English local government is looking to cut spending by 7%. Applying the Welsh model to Wessex and other English regions could create a coalition of opposition to the City-driven priorities of the London regime.

  1. A region understands its businesses better

Far from being a burden on the region’s businesses, a Wessex assembly would be in a strong position to help them succeed. Its powers would include education and training, transport, housing, planning, economic development, tourism and the arts, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. It would be well placed to take on new responsibilities that may emerge at the regional scale, such as oversight of infrastructure and public utilities. The more powers that are devolved, the more incentive the region has to make a success of them because the more that success will be reflected in the assembly’s own rising revenues.

Businesses that have a hard time convincing BIS or the banks in London can expect a different reception in Wessex, especially if they can show how their plans fit with specifically regional aspirations. A Wessex assembly will be one part of a wider expression of the Wessex ‘brand’, with tourism in particular benefiting from a more coherent narrative but with related industries like food & drink and music also potential beneficiaries.

There are many reasons to be regional, but doom and gloom are not among them. The small scale, territorial integration and flexibility of action that come with being a region are precisely what’s needed to respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

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