Opinion: A liberal case for Regional Ministers

Over the past week or so there have been a number of newspaper reports about Labour planning to bring back regional Government Ministers if it becomes part of a new Government next year.

Though some have attacked this idea, I believe there is a liberal case for regional Ministers. A progressive Government of Labour and Liberal Democrats could work on such a project together, building up the various regions of the UK to ensure that all of our regions can compete in the global economy, as well as making sure that all of our people have a chance to make the most of their talents, wherever they find themselves.

Regional Ministers were first introduced by the last Labour Government under Gordon Brown, but don’t let that put you off. We, as liberals, believe in devolving power both within the various nations of the United Kingdom and, further still, down to regions of those nations and down to Cities, Boroughs and Parishes.

You may well ask, well how does having more Ministers in Whitehall help this to be the case?

I answer that by saying that regional Ministers have the power to convene in their own regions and to represent their regions within Government, to seek to ensure that none are left behind, bringing together business leaders with local government, trade unionists, environmentalists, educationalists, civic society and so on.

Regional Ministers can help set a strategy for their regions and be accountable, as well as hold others accountable, to ensure that the skills our people need in order to be able to compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace are readily on offer.

Such strategies would also look at health, science, education, transport, sport and leisure, and other policy areas and would work from the bottom up, properly consulting with civic society and listening to the views of people in the various communities that make up our regions.

I certainly think such an initiative would benefit my own region, the East Midlands, of which I’m so proud.  It is a part of the world which has a strong industrial heritage and has a proud current and future as a strong, multi-culturally diverse, and economically robust region.

So, this isn’t about power being within the grasp of those in Whitehall, this is about having someone in Government who can both lead in their regions and be held to account by those regions and can be measured on the success or otherwise that has taken place during their period of office.

So, I back the idea of regional ministers and I hope this is something a future progressive government will introduce.

* Mathew Hulbert is a parish Councillor in Leicestershire.

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12 Comments

  • Andrew Emmerson 15th Apr '14 - 9:59am

    The major problem with any case for regional ministers is it assumes that a minister is the best person as a single figure to champion regions.

    Quite frankly, that assumption to me is utter tosh. Whilst I’m a big proponent of England as a political entity, if you want regional strength, then you need regional assemblies, with regional mayors. Boris and Ken have been huge for London and done London a lot of good. That’s exactly what regions need. Someone with a big personality to champion the cause in the media, not just another flunky who’s only there because of patronage, and whose job relies on not rocking the boat.

  • Alisdair McGregor 15th Apr '14 - 10:54am

    Central appointment of ministerial office can never approach genuine devolution in addressing the concerns of the people in the regions.

  • Michael Carre 15th Apr '14 - 11:46am

    Regional concerns will never be addressed through the appointment of regional ministers (thereby further strengthening the Executive in parliament too). We either need to endorse full and equal devolution to all entities of the United Kingdom, however it is subdivided, or not bother.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Mathew that the East Midlands is somewhere which deserves a champion, particularly in view of our relatively disappointing statistics in employment, house prices etc. But that legitimate voice will only come through a regional government and legislature speaking with the authority and legitimacy endowed by its electors.

  • Tony Greaves 15th Apr '14 - 1:11pm

    Dead right.

    The previous ministers for the regions under New Labour were a complete waste of time. What the woman inthe North West ever usefully did was a mystery.

    Tony

  • Adam Corlett 15th Apr '14 - 2:52pm

    Just a thought: how about new structures that bring together all the MPs in a region? They could elect a single representative (or committee), hold the government to account, and be a focus point for stakeholders. These regional groups could have dedicated parliamentary resources to help them do research and get their arguments across (like how Northern Lib Dem MPs did a joint Budget submission).

  • Matt (Bristol) 15th Apr '14 - 3:14pm

    Adam Corlett – I believe that proposal was first discussed by the Liberal Party as an alternative to introducing county councils (?) in the 1870s or 1880s.

  • Andrew Martin 15th Apr '14 - 4:11pm

    “A progressive Government of Labour and Liberal Democrats could work on such a project together”

    If you want it to happen, why don’t you just propose it as a Lib Dem party policy rather than tying it to either of the two bigger parties?

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Apr '14 - 6:08pm

    I think there is a case for regional ministers! However, as always, I am worried about a complete non-mention of the importance of single markets. Political unions are not just about defence and foreign policy.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 16th Apr '14 - 4:38pm

    I cannot believe that this country has the sort of people in parliament who could achieve what is being suggested by Mathew. The suggestion could only work if the ministers were free from government dictat and allowed to fuse together the many branches of society. Can we see that happening in this country where everything in government is top down – as in the case of our own leader – who controls instead of listening. Great idea and I wish I lived in such a country.

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