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Empowering the English Regions : Assessing New Labour’s Institutional Arsenal

Houari Mired
p. 95-114


The commitment to develop a bottom-up approach in terms of regional policy management in the English regions under New Labour went hand in hand with the introduction of decentralized institutions. Persistent intervention has not prevented the concentration of economic problems within the same areas. However, it would be misleading to attribute this uneven economic development mainly to economic factors. In fact, notwithstanding the negative consequences of the transformation of production systems, other variables, notably indigenous governance practices, should be emphasized. This has become a highly contentious and much debated question. Relying on a case study approach with a particular reference to the North East of England, this paper draws upon the institutional changes adopted since 1999, while analyzing the impact of the initiatives that were deployed in the English regions with the intention of promoting innovative projects.

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  • 1  McCrone, G., 1969.

1Regional economic disparities in the UK have dogged successive governments for more than a century. The persistence of these inequities has triggered a series of public interventions intended to alter the impact of uneven economic development. As a heartland of the Industrial Revolution, the UK has been particularly concerned with this issue, because industrial decline left certain areas in a lagging position which made it almost impossible for them to become economically competitive1. The persistent disparity between a well-off south, and a less-favoured north which has therefore remained highly dependent on public subsidies, has continued to sustain a regional divide which has posed a problem for social equity in the UK.

  • 2  Pike, A., Tomaney, J., 2009; Gertler, M. S., 2010.

2While this economic context has thrust the regional question to the centre of the political debate, most successive governments, once in power, did not show a genuine commitment to the creation of a hierarchical territorial framework in which the regions could have their say. This situation continued to fuel the debates over how best to organize the territorial representation of the English regions and the degree to which such framework would contribute to economic development2. Even if the major political parties recognized the necessity to provide the regions with an appropriate institutional infrastructure, the regions continued to lack institutional identity, leaving the English question still unanswered.

3It is worth noting that so far, New Labour’s regional agenda seemed the most ambitious, as it foreshadowed the allocation of resources likely to provide the English regions with enough powers to influence decision-making. This article provides an analysis of how the English regional question was dealt with between 1997 and 2010. In doing so, the following sections investigate the institutional changes implemented by New Labour and how they affected regional governance. The functional decentralization operated by the Blair government and the project to transfer substantial autonomy to the English regions through a better role of the newly introduced regional assemblies represented a novel step in the history of intergovernmental relationships. However, the effectiveness of the reforms seems questionable, as governance has remained contested. Overall, the main aim is to shed light on the complexity of public policy-making in the English regions and how the institutional innovations impacted on the delivery of regional economic development, the appropriateness of the strategies promoted and the role played by “new regionalism” trend in this process, with a particular focus on the North East of England.

The Legacy of the Past

4New Labour inherited a tradition in which the idea of the “region” as a territorial unit was relatively unfamiliar both in the UK institutional context and English imaginary. The established classifications of shires and counties are still in operation. The “region”, as an administrative tier, was consolidated in the period following the introduction of the Government Offices for the Regions (GOs) by the Major government, an initiative that brought changes to the administrative divisions in England by adding Cumbria to the North West region and thus clarified the boundaries of the English regions.

5Thatcher’s institutional legacy strengthened the dependence of the English regions on Whitehall departments in terms of economic development. In addition to adopting a radical approach in the management of regional policy throughout the 1980s, the Conservatives decided to invest considerable resources in projects favouring entrepreneurship, and restricted the allocation of public subsidies to particular sectors, mainly those involving the private sector. Similarly, this era witnessed the introduction of a growing number of quasi non-governmental organizations (quangos), and ad hoc agencies, to deal with regional development initiatives. This situation did not provide the regions with an importance that would have enabled them to influence decision-making.

  • 3  Department of Environment, 1993.
  • 4  Tomaney, J., 2002.

6As Prime Minister, John Major recognized the importance of introducing a regional tier of government. The establishment of the GOs was intended to fill the institutional vacuum and represented a novel step which significantly altered the institutional landscape in the English regions. This phenomenon was partly triggered by the growing debate over the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales. At the same time, the European Commission instructed the central government to create regional institutions for the governance of EU structural funds. The creation of the GOs, according to the Major government, was intended to bring Whitehall closer to the regions and improve their role3. It is important to note that these institutional innovations led to the multiplication of collaborations between Whitehall and the English regions. This was in fact the first time that there was a recognition of the English regional question by the Conservatives in power since 1979; a project which has been postponed indefinitely ever since. These changes led the GOs to emerge as the key regional institutions in charge of the delivery of central government policy. This was the main factor in the continuing perception that they were the regional arm of the central government and thus did not embody regional expectations4.

New Labour’s ‘New Regional Plan’

  • 5  Labour Party, 1997, p. 34.
  • 6  Balls, Ed., 2000.

7The 1997 Labour Party manifesto took up all the aspects of regional issues in the UK and unveiled an enthusiastic plan for the English regions. In addition to making regional issues a genuine priority, the Labour manifesto underlined the necessity to implement a bottom-up approach, thus encouraging civic engagement while criticizing the Conservatives for creating “a tier of regional government through quangos and government regional offices”5. Gordon Brown’s economic advisor, Ed Balls, insisted that New Labour’s regional policy was completely new and emphasised its “bottom-up” structure6.

  • 7  Labour Party, 1995.
  • 8  Regional Policy Commission, 1996.

8In the mid 1990s, leading Labour leaders such as Jack Straw and John Prescott went up and down England and were very active in advocating the Labour position7. As a deputy Labour leader, John Prescott commissioned Bruce Millan, a former European Union (EU) regional policy commissioner, to chair the Labour Party’s Regional Policy Commission (RPC). The conclusions of the RPC highlighted the need to establish Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in every region to promote regional economic development, and make these agencies accountable to the newly established regional assemblies8. But because of the difference in regional attitudes towards this project, New Labour suggested holding a consultation in the regions where popular consent was most visible. The Major government showed hostility to Labour proposals and denounced their “purely” bureaucratic nature.

  • 9  Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, 1997.

9The first Blair government preferred to bring forward a functional regionalization and introduced the RDAs in the English regions. It is worth noting that their establishment in 1999 did not solely reflect the will of the Blair government but was also a response to the pressures exerted by both some local authorities and the private sector. The main role of the RDAs is to foster economic development, promote investment while working in close collaboration with a large number of partners, notably the private sector, local authorities, the voluntary sector, unions and academics who have also been involved in the management board9.

10Another important mission that the RDAs were given was to change in a radical way the regional administrative framework and decrease the degree of fragmentation as well as duplication which characterized public policy. That is why further changes consisted of absorbing the quangos and other bodies such as English Partnerships, Rural Development Commission, Regional Inward Investment Organisations, Regional Supply Chain Offices, and other teams that initially operated within the Government Offices, namely the Single Regeneration Budget and Innovation and Enterprise.

11The RDAs began operation with a smaller range of powers. This was mainly due to interdepartmental conflicts, as ministries were reluctant to transfer the prerogatives that were supposed to be incorporated in the RDAs functions. This put them in a position of a provider of nationally-defined policies rather than a genuine regional indigenous institution. The budget they were allocated was small compared with the initiatives they were expected to implement, and investments in some projects needed government approval. In this respect, the limited financial resources as well as the lack of flexibility in terms of spending made it difficult for some RDAs to meet government objectives.

  • 10  Tomaney, J., 2000.

12Because of these constraints, the government decided to increase their budget, widen their financial autonomy and create a cross-departmental budget without enabling them to influence the regional programmes they delivered10. Tony Blair’s long-standing Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, believed firmly in the role of the RDAs in stimulating employment, enhancing the development of the knowledge-based economy and overarching the governance of the most controversial initiative: the Regional Economic Strategy (RES). While the significance of this measure and its instrumental value-added represented the thorniest issue, the delivery of these two priorities was intended to involve a wide range of regional partners in a new institutional landscape characterized by the adoption of “new governance practices”.

Promoting Democratic Renewal in the English Regions

  • 11  Rhodes, R. A. W., 1997.
  • 12  Pierre, J., 2000.

13Deepening democratic renewal and consolidating partnership were the key objectives of Tony Blair’s ‘new regional policy’. For this reason, the most widely used concept – governance – came to describe a new way of conducting policy-making. Governance is above all a theoretical framework and like all such frameworks, it is subject to multiple usages implying contentions, inconclusiveness and ambivalence. Taking these together, I would link governance with pluralist approaches which highlight the necessity to involve various partners in decision-making. Nevertheless, the works of some scholars have shed more light on the subject. Rhodes described governance as a ‘new process of governing’ which consists of a shift in the rules of the game in which the state plays a different role11. Similarly, Pierre remarks that, in addition to being a theoretical framework of coordination, governance alludes to the adaptation of the state to external changes that affect the normal process of decision-making12. Therefore, the act of governing is no longer a one-way traffic in which the state autonomously shapes decision-making. In this respect, partnership represents the guiding philosophy and has become the principle for the delivery of good governance.

  • 13  Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), 2000.
  • 14  House of Commons Environment Select Committee, 1995; Department of Environment, 1996.

14It should be pointed out that a form of governance has, to a certain extent, been in operation in the English regions following the administrative regionalization promoted by the Major government. In fact, despite the initial malfunctioning of the GOs, due to issues mainly linked to their close identification with their managing authority13 and to a lack of coordination between the different ministries, the ten decentralized institutions started to collaborate with the local authorities and other organizations involved in local and regional projects14.

  • 15  Morgan, K., 1999; Harding, A., Wilks-Hegg, S., Hutchens, M., 1999.
  • 16  DTI, 2001 (a).
  • 17  Jones, M., 2001; Benneworth, P., 2001.
  • 18  HM Treasury, 2000.

15The newly introduced initiative – the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) – was to be managed by various ministries, notably the Department of Environment, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) along with the participation of a wide range of partners, represented an important step towards the opening up of the decision-making process. While the RDAs had to take a leading role in this institutional landscape15 and were, according to the DTI’s White Paper onEnterprise, Skills and Innovation, expected to have an active role in realizing the government’s industrial policy16, initial accounts highlighted the strong dependence of the RDAs on the centre17 and their inability to manage projects autonomously, along with a lack of resources18.

  • 19  Tomaney, J., 2002, p.724.
  • 20  HM Treasury, 2004.

16Tomaney identified tensions between Graham Hall, the chairman of Yorkshire Forward, and the central government. Graham Hall raised the challenges linked to financial accountability arrangements and criticized the ‘control’ culture of the civil service which was counter-productive and less likely to enable the RDAs to meet the anticipated targets19. The Labour government aimed to consolidate their capacity to deal with economic problems by increasing flexibility and committing ministries to consult and collaborate extensively with one another. John Prescott and Gordon Brown played an instrumental role in introducing new changes that sought to leapfrog the bureaucratic obstacles hitherto identified while granting them greater accountability and reducing Whitehall’s interference in their work. Although Gordon Brown clarified his vision and made a pledge to encourage local accountability to contribute to the prospects and the active role of the RDAs20, he distanced himself from engaging in the debate about the elected regional assemblies, leaving John Prescott as the main spokesman.

17In terms of regional policy, Tony Blair’s first term was devoted to the implementation of functional regionalization. The Elected Regional Assemblies (ERAs) project was the following step. The Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 made the regional assemblies, initially introduced in the English regions on voluntary basis, directly accountable to Parliament and the RDAs should consult them in formulating the RES. These changes raised the prospect of a more promising future for the English question, as the assemblies embodied the deep-rootedness of democratic renewal that New Labour seemed to be aiming for and to which the English regions aspired. Whether the backing for this project was genuine remains a separate question.

  • 21  Yorkshire and Humber Regional Assembly, 1998; Government Office for Yorkshire and the Humber, 2004

18The introduction of regional assemblies was the most important of government’s proposals, because these institutions were intended to enable the participation of regional and local actors in the delivery of public policy. The region of Yorkshire and Humberside pioneered the implementation of this process through the creation of the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Assembly (YHRA) in 1996. This assembly encouraged the formation of alliances by involving a large number of partners to tackle the programme set out in its agenda21. However, soon after the introduction of this assembly, its managing director Richard Penn highlighted its inability to influence decision-making. In its scrutiny of the government’s proposals, the Constitution Unitwas highly critical of what appeared to be the wholly top-down approach to the introduction of the regional assemblies and recommended a complete rethinking of the nature of the future relationship between these assemblies and the local authorities as well as the funding scheme.

  • 22  Cabinet Office/Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, 2002.
  • 23  Jeffery, C., Mawson, J., 2002.
  • 24  Pearce, G., Ayres, S., 2007.

19The White Paper Your Region, Your Choice, published in 2002, anticipated that the regional assemblies would be empowered through their involvement in the management of key policies, notably economic development, housing, transport, art and culture, health, rural development, planning and the environment22. Despite high expectations, these announcements were relatively modest, and not really new, since they had previously been unveiled in former proposals23. When these assemblies were actually in place, they gradually became involved in the programmes initiated by the RDAs24, however, they found it difficult to influence decision-making insofar as their relationship with the RDAs was rather passive. Their role consisted of following the agenda that the RDAs had to apply. However, the assemblies multiplied their partnerships with a wide range of organizations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress (TUC), Chambers of commerce, the voluntary sector and many other associations.

  • 25  Sandford, M., Hetherington, P., 2005.

20Building upon this relatively modest success of the assemblies, the Blair government, during its second mandate, planned to extend their powers. Despite a rather disadvantageous position, the assemblies did foster networking and collaboration, and played a constructive role in working with the GOs and the RDAs to influence and monitor the achievement of collective regional goals. However, collective executive powers gave rise to tensions and ambiguities over their responsibilities. The architect of this project, Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, drew up new responsibilities which enabled the assemblies to participate gradually in sub-national policy-making. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown provided them with the funding of £15 million spread over five years. While the assemblies were expected to have more power if voters spoke out for this project, the resounding no vote received in the referendum held in the North East put an end to the ‘march of regionalism’ in the English regions25.

In What Sense Indigenous Governance in the North East?

  • 26  Anderson, J. J., 1992; Lancaster, B., 2007.

21When New Labour created the RDAs, the management of the SRB launched participation among a wide range of actors at the regional level. The RDA for the North East of England, One NorthEast and the Government Office for the North East (GONE) brought on board various partners, notably the local authorities and the private sector and made it clear that the orientations of the SRB would be in line with local and regional expectations. It is important to recognize, however, that this region had a particular history and a specific political tradition26 which meant that a great deal of effort would be required from GONE to build trust. The relationships between this region and the central government remained poor because of the fragmentation of public policy-making. In this respect, the SRB represented a good opportunity for GONE to appear as an institution that embodied regional expectations.

  • 27  Interview with Peter Smith, Team Leader Strategy and Communications, European Programme, Governmen (...)

22Given the high level of unemployment and worklessness – affecting particularly the category of the unemployed who can never expect to have a job – in the North East, the principal aim of the SRB was to improve employment prospects, tackle social exclusion and promote economic growth. From 2001, One NorthEast, along with the other RDAs, was given more flexibility in the delivery of this project. This prompted some GOs to adapt their practices to those of the RDAs, particularly in the governance of Objective 2 of the EU structural funds granted to the North East for the programming period 2000-2006. Similarly, GONE was keen to align processes and systems to the requirements of One NorthEast, as a senior official within the institution acknowledged27.

  • 28  House of Commons Environment Select Committee, 1995.
  • 29  Mawson, J., Tilson, B., 1997.
  • 30  Rhodes, J., Tyler, P., Brennan, A., 2003.

23In fact, despite some initial problems28,GONE, together with One NorthEast, the City Councils, the private sector and other partners, managed to build a consensus as to the sectors and the projects that should be funded. To a significant extent, the SRB enabled the transparency and the flexibility that came to characterize public policy-making in the English regions as well as a rapid recognition of local and regional needs thanks to a diagnosis built upon cooperation and consensus. However, the management of the SRB was criticized for creating competition that some localities were unable to manage29. Moreover, the regional initiatives had to fit within the requirements defined by the DTI and GONE, and while some localities were at an advantage, others were discouraged from applying for funding, particularly those who found it difficult to put up with the frequent changes of the SRB requirements30. In this case, it is important to differentiate between two types of partnership, the first one being autonomous and regionally rooted and the second being strongly influenced by the central government. Most of the partnerships in the North East were of the latter type, which calls into question the ostensible opening up of decision-making. The promotion of governance practices seem therefore contested.

  • 31  One NorthEast, 1999.

24The key responsibility of the RDAs was to draw up a Regional Economic Strategy (RES) and identify the projects to be put forward. One NorthEast mapped out a RES which prioritized support to the knowledge-based economy. Considerable resources were invested in programmes favouring business incubation and clustering. This orientation was mainly encouraged by EU support to innovation, as a substantial share of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) was allocated to this sector. Investments in biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry were employed to help innovation to take root in the North East. An important network comprising the Small Business Service (SBS), One NorthEast, GONE, Business Links, UK Business Incubation (UKBI) and a number of local authorities, notably the Newcastle City Council, was created to promote entrepreneurship and innovation. This orientation, adopted by One North East when it was created, was expressed through the RES – Unlocking Our Potential –31 which aimed to strengthen the region’s ability to innovate and compete nationally and internationally, and build a diversified knowledge-driven economy. Certain innovative Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) were given special funding by the Treasury which also provided pathways to apply directly for funding to the ERDF.

  • 32  DTI, 1998.
  • 33  DTI, 2001 (b).
  • 34  HM Treasury, 2000.

25It is worth noting that none of the decentralised institutions were elected or really had any grass root representation. For this reason, their legitimacy in the representation of local and regional priorities was often challenged.  The decision of One NorthEast to prioritise the funding of innovation was not made entirely independently, but was clearly hand in glove with the government orientations. The DTI adopted innovation as the central term in its program for economic growth in the English regions32. All the material produced by One NorthEast for the RES consistently echoed this centrally-driven terminology. For this reason, during this period, increasing debate arose, reflecting a growing concern about the appropriateness of the RES, thus questioning the legitimacy of the initiatives carried out. In response to these problems, the government published a White Paper on Enterprise, Skills and Innovation33 that emphasized the government’s commitment to promote an integrated innovation policy while widening the shares of intervention, as well as increasing the budget of the RDAs34.

  • 35  One NorthEast, 2002.
  • 36  Moving Forward, The Northern Way, 2004; One NorthEast, 2005.

26As further consultations were carried out, One NorthEast decided to update its RES. The new strategy – Realising Our Potential – claimed to be more integrated and built upon cooperation and trust35. The new RES continued to emphasize the need to promote an entrepreneurial culture and to provide businesses with skilled workforce. The key initiative that emerged from this new willingness of mobilization and networking was the “Northern Way” which brought together partners, namely Yorkshire Forward (the RDA for Yorkshire and Humber), the North West Development Agency and One NorthEast to launch common actions intended to promote innovation and technology. The aim of the programmes funded by this initiative was to support market-led innovation across the North by investing extensively in research areas such as regenerative medicine and molecular engineering36.

27The result of these initiatives in combination has been a substantial restructuring of the regional economy and the image of the North East, particularly through numerous ambitious and innovative programmes that contributed to the growth of SMEs and business start-ups. Newly established business incubators, notably those set up in the former mining localities such as Ashington and Hartlepool gave the opportunity to young entrepreneurs to take advantage of the favourable conditions and the facilities. Despite all these successes, a question arises as to the extent to which these projects contribute to make the North East the ‘capital of innovation’ given its relatively poor economic performance compared with the rest of the UK regions.

  • 37  OECD, 2006.

28An appraisal of the limited prospects of this restructuring by the OECD raised serious doubts about the appropriateness of the strategies deployed by the decentralised institutions. The dependency of the North East on traditional sectors such as manufacturing and the chemical industry has remained largely unchanged and thesesectors are as vital to its development today as they were half a century ago. This assessment has been confirmed by studies that concluded that the aspirations of the North East, as they have been set out in successive RESs, were unlikely to be reached37.

29The orientation adopted in terms of public policy in the North East was far from unanimous, and One NorthEast was consistently criticized for its lack of responsiveness. This institution did not seem to encourage a calm climate of governance to which local and regional actors could contribute. The aforementioned OECD review devoted to the North East recommended that:

  • 38 Ibid., p.171.

The debate on economic development strategies needs to be informed by critical assessment of the region’s existing strategies, in light of robust analysis of the outcomes being achieved, and a good understanding of the dynamics of the regional economy. The region’s economic development strategies need to be strongly grounded in current realities38.

  • 39  Benneworth, P., Charles, D., 2005.
  • 40  OECD, 2008.

30Despite excellent research programmes which have sought to expand the base of production through active collaboration between regional industries and universities39, the region is still highly dependent on the traditional chemical industry as its major cluster strength40. Despite the rapid development of the service sector and the investments in R&D, the traditional industries still represent up to a third of the regional economy (see map1).

Map 1: Industrial Production in the UK (GDP per Region)

Map 1: Industrial Production in the UK (GDP per Region)

Source: HM Treasury, Productivity in the UK — The Regional Dimension, London: Her Majesty’s Treasury, 2001, p. 20.

31One of the more questionable aspects of the successive RESs, as set out by One NorthEast, was its consistent reflection of the government’s orientation which claimed to promote the development of the knowledge-based economy when in fact a survey of spending in R&D reveals the government’s low investment in the North East (see figure 1).

32Whatever the outcome of these projects, the decentralized institutions clearly played an instrumental role in attracting subsidies, but ultimately failed to achieve their larger targets. While the actions of decentralized institutions in the post-devolution era have often been presented as exemplifying the “new regionalism” trend, one may wonder whether this form of regionalism has, in any sense, fundamentally altered the regional dynamic, at least in the North East.

Figure 1: R&D Spending in the UK, 2000

Figure 1: R&D Spending in the UK, 2000

Source: HM Treasury, Productivity in the UK — The Regional Dimension, London: Her Majesty’s Treasury, 2001, p. 23.

From Old to “New Regionalism”: Discursive or Real Change?

  • 41  Lovering, J., 1999.
  • 42  Harvie, C., 1991.

33The manifestation of regionalism was long linked to the worsening of economic conditions in the deprived regions. While economic hardship contributed markedly to the outbreak of historic strikes up to the early 1980s, which characterized the old regionalist movement, a different regionalist trend, known as “new regionalism”, emerged during the 1990s. Mainly focused on economic concerns, “new regionalism” highlights above all the adaptation of the regions both to global economic conditions and to the political agenda emanating from the centr41. In this new orientation, the peripheral regions, particularly less favoured ones such as the North East, represented by decentralized institutions, no longer consistently oppose the government’s initiatives. Instead, they have adapted their discursive practices and taken on the government’s orientations, thus reducing regionalism to a merely economic phenomenon and bearing out Christopher Harvie’s famous description of English regionalism as the ‘dog that never barked’42.

34Most RDAs, notably One North East, insisted on the value their projects added to the restructuring of their regions, thus, repeatedly highlighting their contribution to endogenous investment and underlining their adaptation to international competition. Discursively, then, the RDAs have, without doubt, embodied the “new regionalism” trend which tends to give the regions an image of dynamism regardless the reality. One of the guiding assumptions of the RDAs was that they provided the English regions with an exposure both at the national and the international level, but a comparison of the discursive representation of their activities with the actual value-added to economic development raises serious doubts.

  • 43  ODPM, 2003 (a), 2003 (b), 2006; One NorthEast, 2006.
  • 44  OECD, 2006.

35The North East development agency, One NorthEast, has placed a consistent emphasis in its communication of the knowledge-based economy to the restructuring of the region’s economy. A wide range of regional plans have emphasized the impact of business incubation, clustering and biotechnology on economic growth and on job creation in the North East43. While the aim of these strategies, particularly as part of the larger “Northern Way”, was to bridge the economic divide between the North and the other English regions, the North East was found to be unable to reach the targets set out in its successive RESs. The hard-hitting OECD review revealed the obstacles that this region was confronted with and highlighted the importance of the traditional industries as well as the limited capacities of the region to respond to the orientations set out in the RESs44.

36During the launch of the OECD review in Newcastle, Jonathan Kings, one of the leaders of the review, made it clear that:

  • 45  Speech made by Jonathan Kings, OECD Consultant, at the launch of OECD Report into Newcastle and th (...)

ICT and Biotech sectors do not feel appropriate for this sort of economy, but the manufacturing sector is still an important part of the economy, and we think there is an enormous productivity gained from the manufacturing sector, and that this should be a priority to build economic development45.

37In many respects, the institutional discourse about regionalism and economic development is undermined, if not contradicted by the reality. Moreover, the endless multiplication of regional action plans did not help these institutions to promote long-term economic strategies. The discourse of “new regionalism”, then, seems to have created at least as many problems for governance and economic development as it has solved and overall, serious doubts have arisen over its legitimacy and effectiveness.


38This paper has framed the importance of indigenous governance for the delivery of an effective regional economic development policy. By acknowledging that the less favoured regions required more public subsidies, this paper highlights that a myriad of experiments and novel methods intended to improve the economic aspects were deployed so as to put the region at the core of competition and trigger endogenous growth. Substantial budgets have been devoted to the promotion of knowledge-based economy projects that led to the creation of business incubators and clusters in the North East. But longstanding intervention has not reached the anticipated targets and failed to reduce the persistent uneven economic development within the lagging areas.

39Yet, this paper also shows that there has been a temptation to suggest that the support to the knowledge-based economy will ineluctably lead to the restructuring of the regions. Whether this has contributed to a long process of change has to be proved, as evidence shows that the accuracy of this emphasis is confronted with the persistent lagging position of the less favoured regions. In the same vein, rhetorical commitments powered by “new regionalist” trends are challenged by the economic record of these areas. This poor performance poses a significant challenge to the discourse of “new regionalism” and its enthusiastic rhetorical claims.

40Nonetheless, the debate on the English question gained considerable momentum during the second half of the 1990s and prompted New Labour to introduce a new institutional landscape. But because of the manner of their implementation, these long-anticipated reforms in fact disconcerted the regional players while ultimately failed to bridge the economic divide. These political missteps left the institutional landscape of the English regions relatively unchanged from the pre-devolution setting. Only the former quangos were able to carve out a stronger position within a new administrative framework.

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1  McCrone, G., 1969.

2  Pike, A., Tomaney, J., 2009; Gertler, M. S., 2010.

3  Department of Environment, 1993.

4  Tomaney, J., 2002.

5  Labour Party, 1997, p. 34.

6  Balls, Ed., 2000.

7  Labour Party, 1995.

8  Regional Policy Commission, 1996.

9  Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, 1997.

10  Tomaney, J., 2000.

11  Rhodes, R. A. W., 1997.

12  Pierre, J., 2000.

13  Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), 2000.

14  House of Commons Environment Select Committee, 1995; Department of Environment, 1996.

15  Morgan, K., 1999; Harding, A., Wilks-Hegg, S., Hutchens, M., 1999.

16  DTI, 2001 (a).

17  Jones, M., 2001; Benneworth, P., 2001.

18  HM Treasury, 2000.

19  Tomaney, J., 2002, p.724.

20  HM Treasury, 2004.

21  Yorkshire and Humber Regional Assembly, 1998; Government Office for Yorkshire and the Humber, 2004.

22  Cabinet Office/Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, 2002.

23  Jeffery, C., Mawson, J., 2002.

24  Pearce, G., Ayres, S., 2007.

25  Sandford, M., Hetherington, P., 2005.

26  Anderson, J. J., 1992; Lancaster, B., 2007.

27  Interview with Peter Smith, Team Leader Strategy and Communications, European Programme, Government Office for the North East, Newcastle upon Tyne, February 24, 2005.

28  House of Commons Environment Select Committee, 1995.

29  Mawson, J., Tilson, B., 1997.

30  Rhodes, J., Tyler, P., Brennan, A., 2003.

31  One NorthEast, 1999.

32  DTI, 1998.

33  DTI, 2001 (b).

34  HM Treasury, 2000.

35  One NorthEast, 2002.

36  Moving Forward, The Northern Way, 2004; One NorthEast, 2005.

37  OECD, 2006.

38 Ibid., p.171.

39  Benneworth, P., Charles, D., 2005.

40  OECD, 2008.

41  Lovering, J., 1999.

42  Harvie, C., 1991.

43  ODPM, 2003 (a), 2003 (b), 2006; One NorthEast, 2006.

44  OECD, 2006.

45  Speech made by Jonathan Kings, OECD Consultant, at the launch of OECD Report into Newcastle and the North East’s Regional Economic Prospects held in Newcastle, July 21, 2006, comments recorded and transcribed by the author.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Map 1: Industrial Production in the UK (GDP per Region)
Crédits Source: HM Treasury, Productivity in the UK — The Regional Dimension, London: Her Majesty’s Treasury, 2001, p. 20.
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Titre Figure 1: R&D Spending in the UK, 2000
Crédits Source: HM Treasury, Productivity in the UK — The Regional Dimension, London: Her Majesty’s Treasury, 2001, p. 23.
Fichier image/jpeg, 35k
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Houari Mired

Docteur en civilisation britannique

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