Thinker's Corner

Empowering the English Regions (Charter 88, 16-24 Underwood Street, London N1 7QJ, 0171-684 3888, £5). John Tomaney and Michelle Mitchell venture into the void at the centre of the devolution programme. At present, England's regions are powerless to experience the "new ways of doing politics" being enjoyed in Scotland and Wales. Tomaney and Mitchell argue that the lack of political progress in devolving power to the regions has exacerbated the "sense of neglect" long felt by inhabitants outside the South-east. The resulting impotence of Regional Development Agencies has meant that local campaigners are increasingly taking over from the government at the helm of devolution, most notably in the North-east. The North-east Constitutional Convention envisages having an assembly similar to the Welsh model. This vision is cited as a possible pilot for regional devolution, but to make it work strong leadership from government will be essential.

A Question of Choice: public priorities for health care (Social Market Foundation, 11 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QB, 0171-222 7060, £10). Stephen Pollard and Katherine Raymond draw attention to the heights of public expectation and the depths of suspicion concerning the NHS. Their survey, conducted by ICM, confirms that the public does not expect a free health service for much longer. However, the majority of respondents insisted that, if they paid for health services, they would expect greater efficiency, information and choice of treatments. Many of the NHS users surveyed were adamant that additional funding should go to prevent the "rationing" of treatments through waiting-lists and limited choices. Unwilling to trust politicians to channel resources, most would insist on a hypothecated health tax. These findings reveal a keen public awareness of the difficulties of maintaining the NHS, but also set a high standard for its future.

This article first appeared in the 04 October 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The eminence rouge