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A report by a committee of MPs says any future legislation to set up regional assemblies in England needs to be more ambitious than the proposals rejected by 78% of voters in a referendum in the north east last November. Its report describes members’ ‘feeling of foreboding’ about the bill’s prospects as they considered the evidence put before them. The committee continued its scrutiny of the draft bill despite the government’s decision to drop plans for elected assemblies after the referendum.

The advice follows a study which found that the two experimental regional transport boards (RTBs) set up last summer struggled to win credibility and clout. The boards were established in south east England and Yorkshire to test whether devolved decision-making would deliver appreciable benefits. A report by government consultants showed ‘considerable uncertainty during the exercise about the authority and purpose of the RTBs’. In the south east, where the board had 12 members, arguments about who should be represented and how to achieve democratic legitimacy stunted progress.

In neither case did regional transport strategies act as a robust framework for allocating funding. Instead, they were ‘aspirational wish lists’ with little relationship to the money available. Asked to show how capital allocations would be made under local transport plans and under the strategic roads programme, neither board was able to do so, not least because there was no mechanism for prioritising one scheme against another. The report concluded that while regional transport boards could lead to more integrated policies and a clearer focus on regional priorities, regional transport and spatial strategies were presently too weak to form an effective framework for transport decisions.

The evaluation recommends giving government offices short term control of RTBs while supporting and strengthening the assemblies’ administrative capacity. It also calls on the Department for Transport to clarify the boards’ composition and remit and to develop a methodology to enable them to choose between different options against a set of regional and national objectives. This should include giving advice on national decisions that have a regional impact, a role in determining the balance between regional and local transport spending, and advising government on investment in national and regional rail. More Details : Valuations VIC