Project: Summer Placement 02 - Examining Inclusiveness of Regional Chambers

Reference: STP 8/11/12 - C560C/02

Last update: 18/12/2007 14:38:37

Objectives

To review the effectiveness of the most innovative feature of new Regional Chambers, that of existing membership to social and economic partner reps. (SEPs). Regional Chambers are a new form of governance in the English regions with few formal powers. That has been their strength as they have been able to make structural innovations without threatening invested interests.
Due to time limitations, instead of investigating and comparing all eight Regional Chambers a case study method will be used. Two Regional Chambers will be selected and will contrast with one another both in size and in perceived success so far.
Output will be fed into the general debate over Regional Chambers, which will assume greater importance once the Government's proposals for elected regional assemblies are to hand.

Description

This project has been approved through the Summer Placements in Whitehall Scheme and addresses Priority no: 7 from the Constitution.
Project deliverables will be:
A detailed project plan to be agreed with Wendy Russell Barter prior to the start date of 01/07/02.
One report which will be fed into the general debate over Regional Chambers, which will assume greater importance once the Governments proposals for elected regional assemblies are to hand. It will also relate to any further research on 'new forms of governance' which the DTLR may commission.
An 'end of project seminar' for Government Officials and Chamber Representatives (date to be agreed).

Contractor(s)

University College London
Constitution Unit, University College London, London, WC1H 9QU

Contract details

Cost to the Department: £11,000.00

Actual start date: 01 July 2002

Actual completion date: 30 September 2002

Publication(s)

Inclusiveness of Regional Chambers
Author: Mark Sandford
Publication date: 01/09/2002
Source: The publication can be viewed at ODPM web-site

Summary of results

  1. Executive Summary

    The position of the social and economic partners on Regional Chambers has affinities with that of non-local authority members on local regeneration partnerships throughout the 1990s. Though there is no evidence of a direct link between the two, it is clear that similar thinking shaped both types of partnership.
    In both cases, partners from outside local authorities were frequently selected through opaque processes; they were selected sometimes to represent a particular sector and sometimes for their individual qualities; in all cases it was hoped that they would aid delivery of local strategies and bring expert knowledge of potential pitfalls and opportunities to bear on the strategy-making process.
    Partnership in Regional Chambers will take a different form from that at local authority level, as chambers have no executive or funding power: but many similar issues are recognisable.
    Two Regional Chambers were researched for this report: the South East, and Yorkshire and Humber. The former has 111 full members and the latter only 35: the former region has little regional identity whilst the latter's is amongst the strongest in England.
    The South East England Regional Assembly benefited from having no predecessor body, allowing it to fully incorporate partners from the beginning and to become the regional planning body without controversy. The Assembly makes provisions in its constitution for proportionality on committees, between the political groups, social and environmental partners, and economic partners: the latter two are treated as separate groups. Both Chambers studied made a point of not holding all meetings in local government venues and of distinguishing themselves from the regional local government association: symbolically, this emphasises that neither is a local government-driven body.
    Several partner members are elected through umbrella bodies. These groups, formed to exert influence at regional level, are developing electoral colleges within their memberships, growing a limited form of democratic accountability. Environment and voluntary sectors, consisting of many small organisations, tend to lead these developments. There was some concern that business groups, in the South-East especially, were less engaged than they might be.
    Many of these partner members make sophisticated use of ICT to make themselves accountable to their 'sectoral constituencies'; likewise, their 'constituents' transmit views on regional strategies and policies upwards to them via electronic means, and their views can then reach Chamber plenaries or committee meetings.

    A very small staff - of one or two people - can make a disproportionately large contribution to effective use of ICT and to transmission of information, and hence inclusiveness, by the Regional Chambers.

    There was no real evidence that the large size of the South East England Regional Assembly was an advantage in making it more representative. The impression was that many members were 'dormant', turning up to meetings irregularly and not contributing.
    Relations between individual partner members are fundamental to the transaction of business on Chambers. Both Chambers appear to have a 'core membership', made up of individuals who are able to give considerable time to Chamber business because of the nature of their 'day jobs'. Without these reserves of time Chambers would function far less effectively. Payment of allowances for chairing committees, or for attendance, is very limited.
    The existence of multiple points of access for partner organisations is a feature of both Chambers studied. Each uses groups outside of the plenary Chamber and official committees in order to enhance inclusiveness. In the South East these are 'advisory groups', in Yorkshire and Humber they are 'Commissions'. The groups permit sectors to exercise greater influence over policy discussions which are of particular interest to them: membership is fluid and open to any organisation that can demonstrate an interest.
    Both Chambers were generally satisfied with the contribution of their structures to inclusiveness. Concerns were expressed that greater inclusion of women, black and minority ethnic groups, and the elderly and youth, was required. There was some concern in the South East that business representatives were somewhat semi-detached.
    The funding for Regional Chambers announced by the Government in March 2001 was universally welcomed, and cited as the main means through which Chambers had been able to tackle issues of inclusiveness and increase the capacity of their partner members to contribute to Chamber business.
    Partner members in both regions largely assented that they were treated as equal to local authority members in the Chamber. Many were critical of perceived politicisation and point-scoring by local authority members, but mostly conceded that this had lessened since the Chambers had been set up.
    SEERA's size, with a full membership some three times that of YHA, did not appear to bring any clear benefits for inclusiveness or involvement of partner members. There were some indications that many of SEERA's members were hardly at all involved in the business of the Chamber, making their contribution to inclusiveness and representativeness no more than nominal. More detailed research is needed on this issue.

Departmental Assessment Status: Project completed prior to implementation of Departmental Publication Scheme.