A leading business expert is calling on the Conservatives to come clean about the future of regional development agencies.
Birmingham Post blogger Professor David Bailey, from the Coventry University Business School, said that conflicting statements from a number of key players from the party is just adding to the confusion.
He said: “Ken Clarke recently announced a review of policy on RDAs – although this was later denied by Tory HQ – and now David Cameron has sought to clarify the position. It was helpful, up to a point, but needs to go much further.”
David Cameron was reported to have said last week that there was not after all a blanket policy in place to scrap RDAs outside London and if local councils want to come together with suggestions of better ways to encourage enterprise and development, then it is something they will look at.
However, he did suggest that some RDAs could be slimmed down and their powers in terms of planning and housing would be stripped out.
Prof Bailey added: “Despite frequent suggestions by several shadow ministers that RDAs will be scrapped outside London, it seems that Tory policy actually means stripping RDAs of planning and housing functions, and only keeping slimmed down RDAs in regions if local authorities want them.
“Whether or not local authorities are really the right ones to make the decision to keep RDAs is questionable. I’d hazard a guess that most local authorities would vote to take back economic development powers in some way but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. For example there are 39 local authorities in the West Midlands and getting them to agree on an economic development strategy for the region is mind-boggling. No wonder the business community is less than impressed.
“To be honest, most businesses just want effective business support delivered with no interruptions at a critical time. The work of the Manufacturing Advisory Service overseen by the RDAs is a great example of something the government has got ‘right’ in recent years, so if it isn’t broken, why fix it?”
“In fact, we need a more mature debate over how best to deliver local and regional economic development, based on evidence and paying particular attention to value for money from already scarce public sector resources.
“I’m not against reforming RDAs and making them more accountable, but in my view scrapping the intermediate tier between Whitehall and local authorities would probably cause huge disruption for business and would end any chance of strategic oversight for economic development and business support across regions including the West Midlands.”