The South West’s population is represented in Parliament by 55 MPs. The General Election in May 2010 saw significant changes in the number of MPs representing each political party. In the South West overall there is now a majority of Conservative MPs, while previously no party had more than 50% of the MPs.
Following the election, the distribution of seats between Members of Parliament (MPs)
was as follows:
36 Conservative MPs
4 Labour MPs
15 Liberal Democrat MPs
The region also forms a European Constituency, and as such returns MEPs to the European Parliament. The MEPs returned at the last election, in June 2009, were:
3 Conservative MEPs
2 UK Independence Party MEPs
1 Liberal Democrat MEP
For the 2009 election, the total number of MEPs for the South West was reduced by one (previously, in 2004, there were 7 MEPs). Representation by the political parties was unchanged from before the elections, except that Labour’s share of the voting was not high enough to retain the seat they had held previously. European Parliamentary elections are held every five years, with the next elections due in June 2014. To find out more about the European Parliament and MEPs, see the UK Office of the European Parliament website.
Local government is responsible for the social, economic and environmental well being of the areas which it administers, and maintaining public services and facilities from parks and education to social services and transport.
Currently, there are 41 local authorities in the South West. Four of these are County Councils that between them contain a total of 25 district councils. Outside of the county governance structure, the region also has 12 unitary authorities.
In May 2011, local elections took place in all districts except Cheltenham Borough Council, and in all unitary authorities except Wiltshire, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Torbay held a Mayoral election. There were no County Council elections.
Local Authority Election Results for the South West Region, May 2011
Results for the 2011 election in the South West generally mirror those for England at that time; Conservative and Labour making gains at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. However, Labour are not traditionally strong in the South West, especially in rural areas, so their advances were not as pronounced as in other parts of the country such as the north. There remains a strong but reduced Independent presence. In the State of the South West 2011, we reported on a number of changes to local government statutory data reporting, which have come into play since the change of Government in 2010, including the removal of performance management requirements and the introduction of DCLG’s Single Data List.
In addition to changes to monitoring requirements is the Equality Act 2010, which will affect the work of all public bodies, including Local Authorities. The Act places requirements on public bodies to ensure they promote equality, and eliminate discrimination in relation to nine ‘protected groups’ within the terms of the Act. They are required to undertake an equality analysis of all new and existing policies, and to demonstrate that analyses are based on sound evidence undertaken in advance of decisions being made. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has developed an equality measurement framework, created for the purpose of measuring progress on equality at a national level.
The Government believes that elected mayors can provide cities with the strong, visible leadership that will help them prosper nationally and internationally. The Coalition Agreement proposed the creation of directly elected mayors in the 12 largest cities outside of London, subject to confirmatory referendum and full scrutiny by elected councillors. Leicester has already elected a mayor and Liverpool has decided, following a resolution of the City Council, to hold an election for a mayor. In the 10 remaining cities, including Bristol, referendums will take place on 3 May 2012 for local people to decide whether to have a directly elected mayor. Where people vote in favour, the city will move to an elected mayor and hold elections on 15 November 2012. Mayors will have a crucial role to play in shaping the ongoing process of reform - negotiating with Ministers to specify and secure the specific powers that each community needs to prosper. Find out more about elected mayors via the DCLG website.
Localism and the Big Society
The focus under the Coalition Government is on devolved power to provide greater autonomy at the local level. A key concept in the Coalition Government’s reform of public bodies is Localism, designed to devolve power, responsibility and funding from central government and its agencies to local government and the community. DCLG defines Localism, as
“…a radical shift in the balance of power and to decentralise power… to the lowest possible level, including individuals, neighbourhoods, professionals and communities as well as local councils and other local institutions.”
Key objectives of the Localism agenda include:
Giving power to individuals themselves, for services which are used individually;
For services enjoyed collectively, they should be delivered by accountable community groups;
Where the scale is too large or those using a service are too dispersed, they should be delivered by local institutions, transparently and with full democratic checks and balances.
The Localism Act is the key mechanism for delivering this programme. The Observatory has produced a summary of the Act which can be downloaded from Related to the Bill, is the Government’s Big Society agenda.
The Cabinet Office defines the Big Society as:
“…helping people to come together to improve their own lives. It’s about putting more power in people’s hands - a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities.”
The Office for Civil Society - formerly the Office of the Third Sector - is responsible for working with government departments to deliver the three main aims of the Big Society of community empowerment, opening up public services, and promoting social actions.
The Office for Civil Society's recently-appointed Local Intelligence Teams will also act to support the Big Society outside of Central Government. You can find out more about Big Society via the Cabinet Office website.
New Sub-national Arrangements
Following the change in Government in May 2010, a number of wide-reaching changes to subnational arrangements were made. Localism has effectively led to the removal of a regional tier of Government administration, including the closure of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), the removal of funding for Regional Leaders’ Boards (formerly the Regional Assemblies), and the abolition of the regional Government Offices.
New proposed structures aimed at driving local growth were identified in the 2010 Local Growth White Paper. Central to the government’s plans for growth are Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), and the work of BIS Local.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)
LEPs are led by local authorities and businesses across natural economic areas. They are intended to provide the vision, knowledge and strategic leadership needed to drive sustainable private sector growth and job creation in local areas.
Following several rounds of bidding, the UK now has full LEP coverage. An up to date map of all UK LEPs can be found via the BIS website.
As well as the BIS website, a good source of information on LEPs is the LEP network site www.lepnetwork.org.uk (set up in 2011 to support LEPs and provide a place for them to share information and resources).
SWO has also recently produced LEP profiles for the South West, accessible via the Economy Module site. Each profile details the visions, aims and key economic statistics relevant to that area.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has developed BIS Local, a network
of six offices which will drive economic development locally, and support government in the following ways:
Provide support for Ministers
Develop relationships with LEPs and local authorities
Provide economic intelligence about local areas
Maintain strong links with major businesses key sectors, and business bodies
Develop a shared understanding of BIS national policy
A list of the offices, the areas they are responsible for, and contact details, can be found at via BIS.
The past 18 months have seen the introduction of new legislation affecting all sectors including public health (NHS reform) and welfare (the Welfare Reform Bill), housing, planning and the environment. These changes are explored in greater detail within the relevant individual chapters of this publication.
Local Authorities in the South West