Co-ordination of Sub-regions
Of course, if regions are far too large, will sub-regions then be far too numerous? As one regional/local politician asked, how do you co-ordinate the work of 30– 40 sub-regions? He then optimistically added 'of course, we can make anything work!' Nevertheless, there were concerns about getting agreement for major strategic developments and achieving coherence of policy across so many subregional bodies. 'I fear that Leaders' Boards, in taking on regional responsibilities, are likely to be primarily interested only in their own local areas' (3rd Sector CEO). Would many of these wider functions revert, de facto, to central government? That was the fear of many respondents. Again, the exception was the one county which was happy to reject both regional and sub-regional levels and make their own County Authority an effective region on its own, perhaps from time to time co-operating with others through wider partnerships, but only on specific issues.
Multi-Area Agreements and City Regions
Two important sub-regional entities created under the Labour Government were the Multi-Area Agreements (MAAs) and the City Regions, though as we saw previously the latter were only experimented with in a few instances. Conceptually, they seemed to have been generally well received. 'At my level the MAA has been effective …' (regional/local politician); 'The MAA has become a development base. That is the main thing … and it has still been quite successful' (Local Authority CEO); 'I want MAAs leading to City regions … The MAA is an integrating role bringing together disparate stakeholders to work effectively at the sub-regional level' (Sub-Regional Director); 'I just think that if we collectively share our services, share our resources and have a common vision about what we want in the future we will do well' (Regional Minister).
Others argued that you didn't need MAAs or City Regions in order to engage in constructive dialogue at the sub-regional level. 'It is all very well inventing these things but the important thing is to determine the outcomes you want and then determine the structure you need to achieve these outcomes' (Local Authority CEO); 'MAAs and City regions may be a useful tool but I suspect that where there is real economic synergy we do not require vehicles like that to make it work' (Regional Government Office CEO). Yet others felt that, whilst it might be a good idea in principle, it was not appropriate for them, and they didn't want it foisted upon their area. 'MAA was a good idea and works well in metropolitan areas but not in small cities' (SubRegional Director). Similarly with City Regions: 'City regions … don't really work in this area' (RDA Director); 'we need a different sort of model that will work [in a rural area]' (Regional Minister). It was not just that the concept was more suited to an urban area but also that its development in cities could change their relationship to the countryside around them. 'City region is an interesting idea … it depends how it works and if it works well. As long as it doesn't get to the point where we are building walls around the city and charging people to come in' (3rd Sector CEO). Similarly, 'City Regions could become the main form where the power would be … [but] there would be a danger that … everything would become more and more centralised around that city and there would be the potential of creating a big urban sprawl' (businessman and arts administrator).
Our aberrant county again had its own view: 'Clearly, the city region doesn't work in a place like this county which is a more rural area … and we have to think about whether we should style ourselves as a County region' (Local Authority CEO); 'Effectively, this County is a City region' (local businessman). The problem of nomenclature was echoed by another businessman from elsewhere. 'I am using [the term] as a shorthand for some form of sub-regional structure … In rural areas they wouldn't be called City regions' (businessman and arts administrator).