Abolishing regional development agencies and returning power to local authorities would be a backward step for the West Midlands, according to the newly appointed chairman of AWM.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his appointment in May, Sir Roy McNulty said the competing influences of almost 40 separate councils could hold back progress on issues such as developing an integrated transport system across the region.
The future of RDAs is set to come under severe scrutiny next year should the Conservatives win a General Election as party leader David Cameron has consistently stated he would abolish them.
However, Sir Roy, who will step down as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority before taking up his post at AWM in September, said he was happy to have that debate and was confident the work of RDAs, and particularly AWM, gives the taxpayer good value for money.
He said: “There is certainly a debate to be had and it is a debate that the UK has not been good in bringing to a conclusion. If you look at countries like France or German they have a settled structure as to what you do locally, regionally and nationally but for some reason we have never been able to get this issue settled and keep oscillating between doing things nationally, regionally and locally.
“I think in general many things are best done at a local level but if you look at a region like the West Midlands you are talking about 38 or 39 local authorities. If you imagine that by devolving everything to 39 different places and relying on co-operation to get the best answer then that’s unlikely.
“There needs to be co-operation and if you take an issue like transport then you just can’t do this locally – you need something like AWM to plan strategy on a regional wide basis. You can call it something different because it doesn’t actually matter what it’s called.
“There are some things that may be better done locally and some better done nationally and I am happy to have that debate but you need something like an RDA. Withdrawing everything to Whitehall is not the best approach because it is extremely difficult to do things at a national level and then get them delivered on the ground.
“As Lord Mandelson has said, there is some lacking in strategic thinking at a national level and you can certainly do more at a local level but to connect it all together you need to look at it from a regional level.”
AWM has recently had to streamline the number of projects it supports after the government reduced its budget by almost £50 million and its income from property and land fell by £20 million.
Sir Roy, who is also deputy chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, admitted that difficult decisions had to be made but defended the organisation’s record and said that it was clearly doing a good job for the region.
He said: “I’ve seen a lot of these sort of organisations over the years and it is well structured, well run, has a very clear set of priorities and some very good people.”