Prescott points way to elected assemblies

22 Feb 01
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has given the clearest signal yet that if Labour wins a second term in government it will set up elected regional assemblies.

23 February 2001

Prescott told delegates to the party's spring conference in Glasgow that the regional chambers already operating were just the start of a bid to decentralise power from Whitehall to the regions.

He hinted that, if re-elected, Labour would introduce legislation allowing referendums to be held in each region on whether it should have its own elected assembly.

'Our next step must now be to deepen regional accountability,' he said. 'I believe the time is right to take the next step and publish a green paper on empowering our regions, to strengthen the accountability of regional chambers. And, with the consent of people, as in Scotland, Wales and London, to move to directly elected regional assemblies.'

He also took the opportunity to nail his own colours to the mast on the issue, telling delegates that he was a 'strong supporter' of regional democracy. Such an approach would boost economic development and help address disparities both between and within regions, he said. 'Devolving power, by recognising differences, can heal divisions.'

Prescott, whose comments were warmly received by the 3,000 activists gathered in Glasgow, went further than Chancellor Gordon Brown, who had addressed the conference the previous day. Brown promised Labour would bring about 'a renaissance of local government' if it won a second term, but made no specific reference to elected assemblies.

Instead he said power would be devolved to a local level by extending the local Public Service Agreements for councils, launched earlier this month. Authorities would be given more resources and greater flexibility in return for meeting tough targets.

However, in recent weeks Brown has conspicuously aligned himself with Prescott and his campaign for English devolution.

In a speech he gave last month, the chancellor backed the deputy prime minister's crusade for greater regional accountability and floated the idea of a Commons select committee for the regions.


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