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Annex A

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					Annex A

     Pro-forma for responses to the soundings exercise on the level of interest in each
      region in holding a referendum about establishing an elected regional assembly
1.    Your name, or that of the organisation on whose behalf you are responding (if you are responding on behalf of a
      representative group, please list the people/organisations you represent):

      South East England Regional Assembly

2.    Please indicate the region that your comments relate to (Please tick one box. Please complete a separate pro forma
      if you wish to respond in relation to more than one region):


                            East Midlands                                 East of England
                            North East                                    North West
                            South East √                                  South West
                            West Midlands                                 Yorkshire & The Humber

3.     What is your connection to the region for which you are responding (e.g. resident in region, work in region,
      business in region)?

      Designated regional chamber.

4.    Postal address:

      Berkeley House, Cross Lanes, GUILDFORD, GU1 1UN

5.    E-mail address:

      paulbevan@southeast-ra.gov.uk

6.    Do you want a referendum in your region? Yes/No

      No

7.    What is your view on the level of interest in holding a referendum about establishing an elected regional assembly
      in the region for which you are responding? Please tick the box you believe best represents the overall level of
      interest:

      Very Strong
      Strong
      Neither strong nor weak √
      Weak
      Very weak


8.    Please give reasoning, evidence and information to support your answer to question 7.

      The following statement was agreed by the regional chamber at its plenary meeting on 5 March 2003



9.    Please use this space to inform us of any information or evidence you have (if any) regarding the differences in the
      levels of interest in holding a referendum between regions.
REGIONAL SOUNDINGS
The Response from the South East England Regional Assembly

Agreed: 5 March 2003


1.   It seems to be widely held that the appetite for a directly elected regional assembly for
     South East England is not strong and that there is accordingly little appetite for a
     referendum on the question. However the evidence that we have shows that public
     opinion is probably more evenly balanced on both these issues than received wisdom
     presumes.

     Appetite for a Referendum

2.   On the question first of a referendum, two surveys were undertaken in January 2003 to
     test the strength and direction of opinion. The first is a public opinion survey
     commissioned from MORI by county councils collectively of a representative sample of
     1,416 residents of county council areas in the region - i.e. just the two-tier local authority
     areas. The second is our - rather more modest - routine survey of the Assembly
     membership in which this year we have included a question on the referendum issue.

3.   In the county councils’ MORI survey, the balance of public opinion is clearly in favour of a
     referendum: 52% support a referendum and only 25% oppose. The survey also found that
     50% of people are very likely, and a further 22% fairly likely, to vote in a referendum on an
     elected regional assembly.

4.   MORI point out that people do like the idea of being asked, and can generally be expected
     to respond positively to referendum proposals. Indeed the survey also sought to gauge the
     appetite for referendums on other topics, such as the Euro, and the abolition of the
     monarchy, and the response was comparable. The survey also shows that awareness of
     the regional agenda is limited, with only 16% claiming to know about the Government’s
     proposals for regional assemblies and a further 39% saying they do not know very much;
     46% say they know nothing at all.

5.   By contrast, member opinion in our current partnership Assembly does not, on balance,
     favour a referendum. On a response rate of just 45%, 37% of our members would like to
     see a referendum held and 63% oppose. The profile of respondents matches composition
     of the Assembly between local authority and stakeholder members. The survey does not
     test the reasons for these preferences, but the most common view against expressed in
     conversation is the fear that proposals for local government reorganisation would create a
     damaging distraction and harm the region’s capacity to pull together to press its collective
     interests.
      Regional Awareness and Identity

6.    In addition to the county council’s recent MORI survey, the Assembly commissioned a
      benchmark survey of public opinion throughout the region in March 2002. In the Assembly
      survey MORI found a high awareness of the South East as a single regional entity (81%);
      this was consistent with a 1999 poll for The Economist and suggests regional awareness in
      this region is on a par with that in the North East, South West and West Midlands. 72% of
      respondents said they are proud to live in the South East.

7.    By contrast in the county councils’ MORI survey only 27% of respondents could correctly
      name the South East off the top of their heads as the region they live in - in the Assembly’s
      survey respondents were asked to select from a list of regions. Having said that, when the
      county councils’ survey tested feelings of identity with various geographical entities, 58%
      felt a sense of belonging to South East England. By comparison 86% felt they belong to
      England, 71% to their neighbourhood or village, 67% to their county, 63% to their nearest
      town, and 58% to their district council area; it should be noted that these choices were not
      mutually exclusive.

      Support for an Elected Assembly for South East England

8.    Opinion on whether the South East should have an elected regional assembly seems to be
      fairly evenly balanced. There is remarkable consistency in the survey results over the past
      year, with support ranging between 35% and 52%, and opposition in the 35% to the mid-
      50% zone.

9.    The Assembly’s own survey was undertaken before the White Paper, ‘Your Region, Your
      choice’, was published, and before therefore the coupling of elected assemblies to local
      government reorganisation had been announced. Questioned about how a regional
      assembly for the South East should be made up, 65% said that a majority of its members
      should be elected directly to it. A BBC poll conducted at around the same time found that
      half (49%) of South East residents favoured an elected regional assembly.

10.   By contrast, Hampshire County Council commissioned a poll from MORI later in 2002
      when the implications of elected regional assemblies for two-tier local government were
      clearer. In that poll, only 35% of Hampshire residents supported an elected assembly.

11.   The county councils’ January 2003 MORI survey asked a series of questions to test support
      for an elected regional assembly for the South East, beginning with a straight ‘benchmark’
      question. This resulted in a majority in favour, with 43% supporting an elected assembly
      and 35% opposing.

12.   The principal reasons given for support was that an assembly would be more localised and
      away from central Government (31%), that an assembly would know/understand the area’s
      needs (27%), that it would help with specific issues relevant to the area (20%), and that ‘we
      would get more of a voice’ (18%). The two main reasons for opposition were ‘too much
      bureaucracy’ (26%), and that it would add another tier of government (18%).
13.   Given the low level of awareness of the Government’s proposals for elected assemblies,
      MORI then asked a series of questions to test how opinion changed as further information
      was provided. Firstly it was explained how elected assemblies would consolidate the
      responsibilities of existing regional bodies. This increased support to 52%, with the level of
      opposition remaining at 35%.

14.   Secondly the impact on two tier local government was explained. This only marginally
      decreased support from the benchmark 43% down to 40%, but opposition jumped to 48%
      - a majority against.

15.   Thirdly the cost of running an elected assembly as estimated in the White Paper was
      revealed. At this, support dropped to 33% and opposition rose to 56%. These figures
      remained almost identical when the cost of local government reorganisation as estimated
      by the county councils was introduced.

      Concluding Remarks

16.   While the balance in favour of both a referendum and an elected assembly for this region is
      initially positive, the follow-up questioning to test respondents’ knowledge of the proposals
      suggests these majorities are by no means solid.

17.   Notwithstanding these figures, it is acknowledged that the Government is unlikely to wish
      to proceed with an early referendum in the South East because of the distraction that a
      local government review would cause for councils attempting to maintain a high quality of
      public service delivery. Although, at 75%, the South East does not have the highest
      proportion of population under the two tier system - the East Midlands has 80% and the
      East of England 88% - it is sufficiently high for a review exercise to have a significant and
      controversial impact across the region.

18.   These findings confirm our view that it is the coupling of elected regional assemblies to
      local government reorganisation that itself ensures the ‘asymmetry’ of the Government’s
      devolution plans for England. Furthermore we reiterate our concern that, in the absence
      of demonstrative counter-measures, such asymmetry is likely to mean inequity, in terms of
      power, resources, leverage and influence, between those regions with elected assemblies
      and those without.




Paul Bevan
Chief Executive
5 March 2003

				
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