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Northumbria University and Durham University

Professor Keith Shaw, Department of Social Sciences, Northumbria University and Fred Robinson, St Chad’s College, Durham University. £30,500 (2011/2012) for a participative study: From Regionalism to Localism: Opportunities and threats for the North East.

The aims of this study, started in January 2011, were to describe, assess and respond to forthcoming changes in governance, representation and accountability in the North East. In particular, it was intended to contribute to public understanding of a wide range of changes to the governance of the region; to establish how we can make the best of the opportunities on offer; and, at the same time to consider what may be worth preserving from the experience of regional-level governance.

A report “From ‘Regionalism’ to ‘Localism’: Opportunities and Challenges for North East England” was completed in September 2011. A central element of the project was a series of three round-table meetings held in May 2011, in Newcastle, Durham and Stockton- on -Tees, involving over 60 stakeholders from all sectors and areas of the North East. A fourth event, held in London in July 2011, brought together senior civil servants (from various departments with responsibilities specifically for the North East) and key stakeholders from the region.

Keith Shaw and Fred Robinson concluded that there was wide-ranging concern that, following the abolition of regional institutions, the region would be politically isolated and that there would be a loss of strategic thinking and analytical capacity; however, within the ‘localism’ agenda, there were advantages in developing more direct contact with government departments; there were opportunities for innovation at the sub-regional level through the Local Enterprise Partnerships; discussion of issues that cut across government departments could be facilitated if civil servants with a North East remit were to meet regularly within the region.

In January 2012 Durham University’s Institute for Local Governance hosted a conference, which was attended by government and local government officials and others from all sectors, including the media. There were presentations and discussions on Keith Shaw’s and Fred Robinson’s study and on research undertaken by Professor Martin Laffin and Dr Christianne Ormston on “Connecting Communities to the Nation: new ways of service delivery and building new strategic relationships”. There was a broad consensus at the conference about the need to protect and promote the interests of the region but no certainty about how this should be done.

Following the meeting instigated by Keith Shaw and Fred Robinson in London, the Department for Communities and Local Government has been convening meetings in the region of civil servants from government departments with responsibilities for the North East. These meetings, which now also involve representatives of other agencies such as the Association of North East Councils and Voluntary Organisations Network North East, provide an opportunity for input of information regarding conditions and developments in the North East. Some interest has been shown in the possibility of replicating these arrangements in other regions.

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