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Regional Devolution and Regional Economic Success: Myths and Illusions about Power

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The proposition that regional devolution in and of itself will lead to economic success has become deeply embedded in beliefs and policy discourses about the determinants of regional prosperity, and in turn has led to political demands for such devolution. In this paper I seek critically to examine such claims, using the case of the north-east of England as the setting for this examination. The paper begins with some introductory comments on concepts of power, regions, the reorganization of the state and of multi-level governance, and governmentality, which help in understanding the issues surrounding regional devolution. I then examine the ways in which north-east England was politically and socially constructed as a particular type of region, with specific problems, in the 1930s — a move that has had lasting significance up until the present day. Moving on some six decades, I then examine contemporary claims about the relationship between regional devolution and regional economic success, which find fertile ground in the north-east precisely due to its long history of representation as a region with a unified regional interest. I then reflect on the processes of regional planning, regional strategies and regional devolution, and their relationship to regional economic regeneration. A brief conclusion follows, emphasizing that questions remain about the efficacy of the new governmentality and about who would be its main beneficiaries in the region. The extent to which devolution would actually involve transferring power to the region and the capacity of networked forms of power within the region to counter the structural power of capital and shape central state policies remains unclear.
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Keywords: governmentality; north-east England; power; region; regional devolution; state

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Durham, UK

Publication date: 2006-06-01

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