Tuesday, February 08, 2005 9:33 AM
Yorkshire Post - bringing order to the regions
IN his reforms of public services, Tony Blair has repeatedly emphasised the concept of "value for money".
Yet, against this backdrop of prudence, Ministers appear to have had no qualms about allowing the spending of shadowy, quangos to spiral significantly, with few controls in place to ensure that they deliver real returns to the taxpayer.
A classic example continues to be the unelected Yorkshire and Humber Assembly. It is facing allegations today that senior managers are more concerned with the use of paperclips, and the type of biscuits served, than delivering tangible economic advances.
The concerns raised about the assembly's management style are serious, and require further investigation. However, the very trivial nature of some of the complaints poses a far more serious question about the organisation's future, and that of the Government's long-term policy towards the English regions.
It must be remembered that the Wakefield-based body was created as a forerunner to the elected regional assemblies that were planned under John Prescott's devolution blueprint.
The organisation quietly amassed a £3.7m annual budget and recruited 39 staff to, ostensibly, develop planning policies and monitor the economic regeneration work of Yorkshire Forward; coincidentally another unelected quango that has considerable spending power. The assembly, which also has a Brussels office, cannot point to one job that it has directly created.
However, concerns about the organisation's role only came to a head last summer when cash-strapped local councils belatedly questioned their own financial input, leading to the damaging claim that it was little more than a glorified "talking shop".
So far, Mr Prescott has been ominously silent on the future of the unelected assemblies, even though his devolution plans were unceremoniously dumped after last November's referendum defeat in the North-East.
Yet, it is not as if the Deputy Prime Minister has quietly forgotten about the issue of regional government. Far from it. Instead of attempting to bring some clarity to the table, Mr Prescott has only managed to complicate matters even further.
He has now approved the creation of the The Northern Way, yet another taxpayer-funded quango that he intends to revitalise the North. At the same time, he has paved the way for local councils to involve individual communities in the decision-making process.
At face value, these are potentially worthwhile initiatives. However, there is a danger that they will all soak up valuable public funds while achieving very little. And there are also concerns that their work will be duplicated.
With a General Election looming, Mr Blair should pull rank and halt his loyal deputy's muddled proposals. He then needs to appoint a Minister who can genuinely deliver a more co-ordinated approach, and one which the public can have confidence in.
The embarrassment that this will cause in the short-term maybe a small price to pay to ensure that even more money does not go to waste on ill-conceived political whims.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
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