Regional Directors, Regional Forums – Back to Government Offices for Regions and Regional Assemblies in Levelling up White Paper

Local Government Chronicle

Nine regional levelling up directors will be appointed to improve relations between local and national government as part of the levelling up white paper set to be published tomorrow, LGC has learned.

Senior councillors briefed on the white paper by communities secretary Michael Gove this afternoon were told that new directors for levelling up will be rolled out. The concept is understood to be based on a model adopted by one of the government’s levelling up advisors, Andy Haldane, when he was chief economist of the Bank of England. The regional directors became the point of contact between regional businesses and the bank in London.

One source on the call said the directors would act as the “interface between local and central government and hopefully streamline some of those conversations”. “Presumably that person could access not just [the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities] but all government departments, which needs to happen because levelling up will involve all government departments. It is intended to be a positive step.”

However, there was fear the representatives would not appreciate the sensitivities and complexities of the local government sector; another source briefed about the call criticised the policy as a “typical Whitehall top down response to get their own folk to find out what we think”. They were concerned the directors would be “big Whitehall tzars” as opposed to representatives of local government.

However, the first source said they were “sure that within a short time they will understand local government”. They also said there had been talk of “regional forums” being set up, “so councils in each region could come together and share common issues”.

Tim Oliver (Con), chair of the County Councils Network, said of the concept of regional levelling up directors that the “simple principle of having a voice, a go to within each region, would be helpful for the sector”.

LGC also understands that around nine county deals will be announced tomorrow, which is more than the seven to eight deals that had previously been expected to be taken forward.

The white paper is also expected to make it clear that in areas being considered for county deals, councils that are opposed to it will not have the power to veto the process. There is also speculation that the consent which is required by all local authorities in an area to embark on a bid to reorganise into a combined authority or unitary structure will be scrapped.

At the moment, areas where there is not unanimous consent for local government structural reforms can only embark on these reforms if they first get an invitation to do so by the secretary of state. The government is understood to be minded to make it easier for reorganisation to take place without all councils being on board.

Furthermore, sources confirmed to LGC that the white paper will boost the role of parish councils, with the expectation that more areas of the country will be parished in future.

The levelling up white paper is also expected to contain a pledge that the UK will have a globally competitive city in every region.

Furthermore, three ‘innovation deals’ are expected to be announced, one of which will be led by Greater Manchester CA but this one will be “open for others to collaborate”. The money for these deals will come from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and will pay for innovations in health and also advanced manufacturing. “Before, the money for catapults was distributed nationally – this will now be decentralised”, one source explained.

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