One overwhelming conclusion arises from our findings about the views of the regional elites studied. Although most are critical in detail of the then-existing regional institutional set-up, of the size and shape of regions and of the decision making mechanisms, there was near unanimous agreement that there was a necessity for a regional level when it came to strategic planning. They listed a wide range of functions which in their view must be performed at a level somewhere between the national and the local because they are too broad and too strategically important to be left to lower level bodies, which simply did not have the breadth of interest to enable them to make them. At the same time, the functions required a subtlety of knowledge generally outside the competence of national governments. Whether such decisions could be managed at a sub-regional rather than a regional level is an empirical question. As one of our interviewees said, somewhat cynically, 'we can make anything work if necessary', but there was very broad agreement that in a wide range of planning the central government is not to be trusted to make sensible decisions because it lacks the appropriate level of knowledge, and the local level of government does not have the wherewithal to make such decisions. As we can see, some thought had already been given by local elites on the matter of sub-regions. Practical issues were recognised as to how so many bodies, all apparently with similar rights, could be accommodated into a
decision-making body. But in only one local authority was there a call for the local to replace the region. Of course, as these supporters of the county region level argued, not all regions and areas within regions are the same. They differ widely. They did not argue that this model was appropriate for everyone. On the contrary, they argued that their distinctive historical cultural heritage led to a distinct county identity which meant that their population identified with the county as a region. At the same time they argued that the unique geography of their area also made it conducive to such a solution.
So, it is interesting that the subsequent Coalition Government's determination to abolish the regional level appeared to run counter to the prevailing views of local and regional elites at the time, who were mostly calling for reform not abolition. What is more, this is not the result of party political differences as our interviewees covered the full range of party political allegiances.
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