Whether we like it or not, says Leo McKinstry, regional government is already here – and it is expensive, absurd and undemocratic
Expanding bureaucracy is the hallmark of the government. Since the 1997 election, there has been a deluge of expensive new bodies, from the Scottish Parliament to the General Teaching Council. Thanks to Labour, Britain is awash with publicly funded apparatchiks and well-heeled paper-shufflers. We are drowning in action plans, strategy documents, task forces, co-ordination units, forums, commissions, programmes, tsars and mayors.
But perhaps the most wasteful, offensive – and ultimately sinister – aspect of Labour’s mania for organisational growth appears not at Westminster, but at a regional level. Over the past six years, without any approval or support from the public, the government has quietly created a vast network of regional agencies and assemblies. Not only has the creation of a new tier of regional administration proved another heavy burden on the taxpayer, but it has also meant more red tape, interference with business and the duplication of the work of other public bodies.
Last month the government announced that the electors in three regions of northern England are to have referendums on whether they want local assemblies. The votes, to be held in the autumn of next year, will cover the North-east, the North-west and Yorkshire and Humber. And further referendums could follow in the other five regions of middle and southern England. But so far there does not seem to be a tidal wave of enthusiasm for this concept of democratic regionalism. When the government put forward its consultation paper on the subject, it received a pitiful 8,000 responses.
New Labour does not really care what the public thinks. All the talk of democracy is hollow.