Speaking at the Conservative Policy Forum's Supper Club in Steventon, the Chairman of the South East Regional Assembly outlined the issues that would confront a new Conservative Government. Keith Mitchell, who is also the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, explained that a commitment to abolish Regional Assemblies led to a series of related questions about the regional infrastructure that had recently developed - Strategic Health Authorities, Regional Development Agencies, Learning and Skills Councils and Regional Spacial Strategies, that have replaced County Structure Plans. "Regional Assemblies have responsibility for Planning, Housing and Transport, which will need to be re-assigned."
Keith Mitchell defended robustly his decision not to "walk away" from the South East Regional Assembly but to lead it and argue for a square deal from the government. He referred to his work in questioning the "Barnett Formula" which distributes on a basis that is favourable to Scotland and disadvantageous to the South East.
He saw some advantage in involving local government more in the Government offices in the eight regions, if these were not to be abolished.
Replying to a question, Keith Mitchell said it was not true to refer to the regional agenda in the UK as something that was driven by Brussels. He saw the argument for unitary government to resolve the uncertainty about which council delivered which services.
"We were all grateful to Keith for giving up an evening to talk us through the regional agenda, and giving us insight into what is happening at the moment and what the options are."
Biography of Cllr. Keith Mitchell
Chairman South East England
Keith Mitchell qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967 and enjoyed a successful career in publishing and professional education until selling his business interests in 1990 to enter public service.
He has served as Oxfordshire County Councillor for the Bloxham Division since 1989. He served as Social Services Spokesman in the hung council from 1995 to 1999. He has been Conservative Group Leader since 1999 and was elected Leader of the Council in the new administration from 5 November 2001. Between 2001 and 2005, he headed a coalition of his own (Conservative) group and the Liberal Democrats. On 5 May 2005, the County Council elections returned Conservatives as the controlling group with a majority of 12 after the Council had been hung for 20 years.
Keith is the Oxfordshire County Council appointee to the South East England Regional Assembly. He served as Chairman of the Regional Planning Committee from July 2002 to July 2005 during which time he has led the development of the South East Plan. He was elected Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly on 13 July 2005.
He is Chairman of the South East County Leaders Group, comprising the eight county councils in the South East Region together with Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and is currently Chairman of the English Regions Network.