England Regions

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The regions of England, formerly known as the government office regions, are the highest tier of sub-national division in England. Between 1994 and 2011, nine regions had officially devolved functions within government. While they no longer fulfill this role, they continue to be used for statistical and some administrative purposes. They define areas (constituencies) for the purposes of elections to the European Parliament. Eurostat also uses them to demarcate first level Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) regions (“NUTS 1 regions”) within the European Union. The regions generally follow the boundaries of the former standard regions, established in the 1940s for statistical purposes.

The London region (also known as Greater London) has a directly elected Mayor and Assembly. Six regions have local authority leaders’ boards to assist with correlating the headline policies of local authorities. The remaining two regions no longer have any administrative functions, having abolished their regional local authority leaders’ boards.

In 1998, regional chambers were established in the eight regions outside London, which produced strategic plans and recommendations to local authorities. The regions also had an associated (central) Government Office with some responsibility for coordinating policy, and, from 2007, a part-time regional minister within the Government. House of Commons regional Select Committees were established in 2009. However, the chambers and select committees were abolished in May 2010, restoring these functions to the main tier of local government, with limited functions transferred to the regional local authority leaders’ boards created in 2009. Regional ministers were not reappointed by the incoming Coalition Government, and the Government Offices were abolished in 2011.

From 2011, combined authorities have been introduced in some city regions, with similar responsibilities to the former regional chambers (and in some cases, replacing a regional local authority leaders’ board on a smaller scale), but which also receive additional delegated functions from central government relating to transport and economic policy.

Regional development agencies were public bodies established in all nine regions in 1998 to promote economic development. They had certain delegated functions, including administering European Union regional development funds, and received funding the central government as well. These were abolished in 2012, with statutory functions returning to local authorities and central government, however smaller scale local enterprise partnerships were voluntarily established to take on some functions relating to coordinating economic priorities and development.

History

After about 500 AD, England comprised seven Anglo-Saxon territories – Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex – often referred to as the heptarchy. The boundaries of some of these, which later unified as the Kingdom of England, roughly coincide with those of modern regions. During Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1650s, the rule of the Major-Generals created 10 regions in England and Wales of similar size to the modern regions.

Proposals for administrative regions within England were mooted by the British government prior to the First World War. In 1912 the Third Home Rule Bill was passing through parliament. The Bill was expected to introduce a devolved parliament for Ireland, and as a consequence calls were made for similar structures to be introduced in Great Britain or “Home Rule All Round”. On 12 September the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, gave a speech in which he proposed 10 or 12 regional parliaments for the United Kingdom. Within England, he suggested that London, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the Midlands would make natural regions. While the creation of regional parliaments never became official policy, it was for a while widely anticipated and various schemes for dividing England devised. By the 1930s, several competing systems of regions were adopted by central government for such purposes as census of population, agriculture, electricity supply, civil defence and the regulation of road traffic. In 1946 nine “standard regions” were set up, in which central government bodies, statutory undertakings and regional bodies were expected to cooperate. However, these had declined in importance by the late 1950s.

Creation of some form of provinces or regions for England was an intermittent theme of post-Second World War British governments. The Redcliffe-Maud Report proposed the creation of eight provinces in England, which would see power devolved from central government. Edward Heath’s administration in the 1970s did not create a regional structure in the Local Government Act 1972, waiting for the Royal Commission on the Constitution, after which government efforts were concentrated on a constitutional settlement in Scotland and Wales for the rest of the decade. In England, the majority of the Commission “suggested regional coordinating and advisory councils for England, consisting largely of indirectly elected representatives of local authorities and operating along the lines of the Welsh advisory council”. One-fifth of the advisory councils would be nominees from central government. The boundaries suggested were the “eight now [in 1973] existing for economic planning purposes, modified to make boundaries to conform with the new county structure”.  A minority report by Lord Crowther-Hunt and Alan T. Peacock suggested instead seven regional assemblies and governments within Great Britain (five within England), which would take over substantial amounts of the central government.

Some elements of regional development and economic planning began to be established in England from the mid-1960s onwards. In most of the standard regions, Economic Planning Councils and Boards were set up, comprising appointed members from local authorities, business, trade unions and universities, and in the early 1970s these produced a number of regional and sub-regional planning studies. These institutions continued to operate until they were abolished by the incoming Conservative government in 1979. However, by the mid-1980s local authorities in most regions had jointly established standing conferences to consider regional planning issues. Regional initiatives were bolstered by the 1986 Government Green Paper and 1989 White Paper on The Future of Development Plans, which proposed the introduction of strong regional guidance within the planning system, and by the Government’s issuing of Strategic Guidance at a regional level, from 1986 onwards.

Regions as areas of administration

In April 1994, the John Major ministry created a set of ten Government Office Regions for England. Prior to 1994, although various central government departments had different regional offices, the regions they used tended to be different and ad hoc. The stated purpose was as a way of co-ordinating the various regional offices more effectively: they initially involved the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Employment, Department of Transport and the Department for the Environment. Following the Labour Party’s victory in the 1997 general election, the government created regional development agencies. Around a decade later the Labour administration also founded the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnerships (RIEPs) with £185m of devolved funding to enhance councils’ capacity to improve and take the lead in their own improvement.

The Maastricht Treaty encouraged the creation of regional boundaries for selection of members for the Committee of the Regions of the European Union: Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had each constituted a region, but England represents such a large proportion of the population of the United Kingdom that further division was thought necessary. The English regions, which initially numbered ten, also replaced the Standard Statistical Regions. Merseyside originally constituted a region in itself, but in 1998 it was merged into the North West England region, creating the nine present-day regions. Since 1999, the nine regions have also been used as England’s European Parliament constituencies and as statistical NUTS level 1 regions. Since 1 July 2006, there have also been ten NHS Strategic Health Authorities, each of which corresponds to a region, except for South East England, which is divided into western and eastern parts.

 

As power was to be devolved to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales without a counterweight in England, a series of referendums were planned to establish elected regional assemblies in some of the regions. The first was held in London in 1998 and was passed. The London Assembly and Mayor of London of the Greater London Authority were created in 2000. A referendum was held in North East England on 4 November 2004, but the proposal for an elected assembly was rejected. Plans to hold further referendums in other regions were first postponed and then cancelled. A campaign for the establishment of a Cornish assembly, including a petition to the UK government in 2001, was largely ignored and no referendum was held.

In 2007, a Treasury Review for new Prime Minister Gordon Brown recommended that greater powers should be given to local authorities and that the Regional Chambers should be phased out of existence by 2010. The same year, nine Regional Ministers were appointed by the incoming Gordon Brown government. Their primary goal was stated as being to improve communication between central government and the regions of England. The assemblies were effectively replaced by smaller local authority leaders’ boards between 2008 and 2010, and formally abolished on 31 March 2010, as part of a “Sub-National Review of Economic Development and Regeneration”. Most of their functions transferred to the relevant regional development agency and to local authority leaders’ boards.

In June 2010, the incoming Coalition Government announced its intentions to abolish regional strategies and return spatial planning powers to local government. These plans include the withdrawal of funding to the existing eight Local Authority Leaders’ Boards, with their statutory functions also being assumed by local councils. The boards in most cases continue to exist as voluntary associations of council leaders, funded by the local authorities themselves. No appointments as Regional Ministers were made by the incoming UK government in 2010.

These changes did not affect the directly elected London Assembly, which was established by separate legislation as part of the Greater London Authority. In 2011, Greater London remains administered by the Greater London Authority, which consists of an elected London Assembly and a separately elected Mayor of London.

Following the abolition of the Government Offices in 2011, it was announced that the former Government Office Regions (GOR) would henceforth be known, for the purposes of statistical analysis, simply as Regions.

List of regions

NamePopulation10-year % increase
(to 2011 Census)
Area
km²
Pop. density
/km²
Median gross annual
earnings (£) 2014
% of population claiming
Income Support
or JSA
(August 2012)
% as at August 2001Largest city
South East8,634,7507.9%19,095452.2028,6293.0%5.4%Brighton and Hove
London8,173,94114.0%1,5725199.7135,0695.3%10.1%London
North West7,052,1774.8%14,165497.8625,2295.3%10.4%Manchester
East of England5,846,9658.5%19,120305.8026,8303.5%6.2%Norwich
West Midlands5,601,8476.4%13,000430.0024,9205.1%9.2%Birmingham
South West5,288,9357.3%23,829221.9525,5713.3%6.8%Bristol
Yorkshire and the Humber5,283,7336.4%15,420342.6524,9995.2%9.3%Leeds
East Midlands4,533,2228.7%15,627290.0925,0274.2%7.7%Leicester
North East2,596,8863.2%8,592302.2424,8766.1%11.6%Newcastle upon Tyne
England53,012,4567.88%130,395406.5527,4874.45%8.32%London