HC Deb 16 October 2002 vol 390 cc305-6
5. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

What the cost of the regional government establishment in England is in 2002–03. [71953]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the legislation for the elected regional assemblies is not yet in place, so there has been no cost in this financial year. However, we fund a number of regional bodies. For example, we fund at a cost of £100 million a year the government offices for the regions that were introduced by the Conservative Government and we are making available grants of £5 million to the eight regional chambers in this financial year.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware of the increasing public concern at the size and cost of the massive new regional bureaucracies in Cambridge and elsewhere, particularly when no one is terribly sure what they do apart from organising conferences and consultation exercises? I specifically wish to ask whether there are any European obligations pertaining to this. If there are no such obligations, will he agree to scrapping regional government and saving a great deal of taxpayers' money?

Mr. Prescott

I thought that I had made it clear that we have not established regional government yet, so it is not there to scrap. Most of the bodies that have been set up with regional dimensions came under the Administration that the hon. Gentleman supported even though we were a member of the European Community. I point out to him that the number of Tory members of the regional chambers that he wishes to scrap has increased from 130 to 150. Three regions are dominated by Tory council members, so perhaps he should address his remarks to them, including Councillor Howard Briggs, who is from his constituency and sits on the East of England regional assembly.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the North West regional assembly on its recent work in Brussels in lobbying European Commissioners to continue funding the objective I area on Merseyside and the rest of the north-west? Does he look forward to the day when directly elected regional assemblies have the power to bring more support and investment to the north-west, the north and other regions of this country?

Mr. Prescott

I compliment all regional assemblies on doing an excellent job in checking what the regional development agencies do. It is the one part of democratic accountability that we have introduced to existing bureaucracy and I believe that it is welcomed by Tory, Labour and Liberal members who sit on the assemblies. Regional assemblies do an excellent job. The House and the Select Committees are aware of that and we should acknowledge it.