When Labour came to power in 1997 and, shortly afterwards, created the South West Regional Development Agency, the Western Morning News said the plan was deeply flawed. Chief among our concerns was that, outside of New Labour's corridors of power, few people saw the South West, stretching from the borders of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire in the east all the way to the Isles of Scilly, as a truly cohesive region.
Even fewer of those living in Devon or Cornwall felt much affinity with the outer reaches of Gloucestershire or the towns of Bournemouth and Poole, at the far end of Dorset. Yet, for Labour's purposes – following a template drawn up by the European Union – the whole six counties, stretching almost 300 miles from one end to the other and covering millions of hectares, could be lumped together under one heading and treated as a whole. It was a nonsense.
Now, finally, the last remnants of the South West as an administrative region, have been officially abolished. Scrapping the South West Regional Development Agency was one of the first acts of David Cameron's premiership. The Regional Office of the South West has also been closed for good and the Regional Assembly ordered to shut up shop. Now it has been announced that official statistics will no longer be published by "region". Instead facts and figures will be put out for cities and counties. The South West officially no longer exists.
It is a death that was long overdue. The way governments work should reflect, as far as possible, the way people live. And most people do not consider that they live in "regions". They live in villages, towns or cities; they feel an affinity to their district and probably to their county. Many will have links to other parts of the Westcountry where friends and family reside, but that is not the same thing. Almost no one says they live in the South West.
Devon and Cornwall, on the other hand, can be fairly considered a "region". Many in the eastern half of Devon will feel themselves connected to West Dorset or West Somerset. Exmoor dwellers probably look on the national park to be their home area; the same can almost certainly be said for those who reside on Dartmoor.
Of course getting rid of the artificial South West Region does not complete the job the Government must do. The bodies put in its place to regenerate local economies have yet to prove their worth. They must start to have an impact – and soon. But saying goodbye to the South West is a good move. It will not be much mourned.
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The RSPCA has a responsibility, as an animal charity that takes money on the basis that it cares for all creatures, domestic and wild, to show equal concern for cattle as well as badgers. Its opposition to the badger cull shows a lack of concern for TB infected cattle. That is something its supporters might like to ponder.