The £300 million government quango for supporting the West Midlands economy came under fire in the House of Commons as MPs demanded to know why it was needed.
Nick Paul, chairman of Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency, insisted his organisation bought investment into the region and secured the redevelopment of New Street Station.
He claimed: “Without our involvement, these projects would not have been delivered”.
But he faced a rough ride from MPs Peter Luff (Con Mid Worcestershire) and Julie Kirkbride (Con Bromsgrove), who demanded evidence Advantage West Midlands made any difference.
The future of the agency, which spends £300 million of taxpayers’ money each year, is uncertain. The Government plans to make the bodies responsible for regional planning, which means Advantage West Midlands will find itself ordering councils to build thousands of homes, even when they are opposed by local voters.
But the Conservatives want to strip the agencies from responsibility of planning, so they are strictly focused on industry.
They are also considering plans to replace regional development agencies with smaller bodies with closer links to councils.
Mr Paul was giving evidence to the Commons Business and Enterprise Committee, chaired by Mr Luff.
He highlighted the decision by Indian carmaker Tata, which bought Jaguar Land Rover this year, to invest in the West Midlands.
He said: “We have secured Tata, who are going to set up their R&D in the region . . . so you have to look at these examples, where we have worked with partners. New Street Station is another example where we had to bring together a raft of people. Without our involvement, these projects would not have been delivered.
“You can see evidence across our regions. We can take you and show you.”
He warned important services such as Business Link, which supplies advice to firms, were run by the regional development agency, but it did not always get credit.
But Mr Luff told him: “We had a very good Business Link in Hereford and Worcestershire before regional development agencies existed. Somebody else was doing it. I’m still not clear what you do that nobody else could do?”
He also warned businesses had made “vitriolic” complaints to him about the quality of regional development agency staff.
But Mr Luff said he was concerned employers dared not repeat criticisms in public because they didn’t want to “bite the hand that feeds them”.
Ms Kirkbride said: “Because you now exist and because we have been successful over the past 10 years in the British economy, we are asked to believe that success is down to you.”
She asked whether it made sense for Regional Development Agencies representing different regions to open separate offices in foreign countries, to attract investment.
“To most Indians, the UK is the UK. It is not made up of Worcestershire and Gloucestershire and so on,” she said.
Bryan Jackson, chair of the East Midlands Development Agency, who was also giving evidence to the committee, said the neighbouring agencies did not compete.
At the moment, an unelected regional assembly is responsible for the regional “spatial strategy” – which is being developed and could lead to 445,000 new homes in the West Midlands.
But the Government has announced plans to abolish regional assemblies and hand responsibility for planning to regional development agencies.
* Labour backbencher Andrew Mackinlay called on the Government to explain the point of regional ministers.
The Thurrock MP said he did not know what they did and was angry they did not face parliamentary question time.
Prompting laughter in the chamber with his insistence he did not want to be “unhelpful or unkind”, Mr Mackinlay – who has never had a Government job – joked he was starting to question where he was going wrong.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears said: “This is a fairly new introduction, but the regional ministers I think have done excellent work in the last few months of being regional champions.”
Labour’s Neil Turner (Wigan) said regional select committees would be “absolutely vital” to the scrutiny of regional ministers and asked when they would be set up.