The chaos and contradictions behind the Government’s plans to support regional economies have only now become clear.
Ministers pledged to create new local bodies, controlled by elected councillors and accountable to local people, which would work hand in hand with businesses to make sure industry had what it needed to succeed.
They would replace the remote and undemocratic regional agencies which Labour favoured.
As far as the Government was concerned, regional development agencies were sat in an ivory tower doling out huge sums of money which may or may not have done any good, with little regard for the desires of locally-elected politicians or business leaders. The Birmingham Post has certainly had plenty of criticisms to make of Advantage West Midlands, our region’s development agency, over the years.
We’ve also given it credit for working hard on building strong working relationships with the business community, after a rocky start more than a decade ago, and for a number of major successes including leading the Rover task force, which dealt with the impact of the carmaker’s closure.
But it must be said that some parts of the West Midlands, such as Stoke, felt they were neglected by the Birmingham-based organisation.
And some smaller firms in Birmingham and the Black Country also felt the work of the regional agency was peripheral to their needs.
At the same time, local authorities including Birmingham City Council have relished the prospect of taking over the budgets and responsibilities of Advantage West Midlands.
Clearly there was a level of self-interest involved, but it is fair to question why civil servants in a regional body – effectively the regional arm of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – are making decisions which could be taken by democratically-elected local politicians.
Regional development agencies may not have deserved some of the vitriol aimed at them by their more outspoken Tory critics, but it was nonetheless tempting to be excited by the prospect of new local enterprise partnerships replacing them.
How different things look now that the details have been revealed.
Far from inheriting the assets and funding of regional development agencies, local enterprise partnerships will get pretty much nothing.
Instead of fixed budgets, they will be invited to bid for money from a central fund – with proposals scrutinised not only by Lord Heseltine but also by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister. How does asking Mr Clegg for permission to invest in local infrastructure amount to an increase in localism?
We have no quarrel with the Lib Dem leader personally, but it seems that Liberal Democrats in power suffer from the same failing as every other party. Despite their fine promises in opposition, they tend to concentrate power in their own hands.
Forcing Advantage West Midlands to sell off its assets in order to pay for the cost of shutting it down may offer fantastic opportunities for cash-rich investors but again at the expense of the poor old taxpayer. And there are no guarantees that the portfolio will continue to be used for the economic well-being of the region.
Indeed, the very existence of facilities such as the i54 regeneration and employment site in Wolverhampton, being developed with Advantage West Midlands funding, illustrates the important role the agency has played.
The reality is that without AWM, who else would have developed these sites? Business and civic leaders working in partnership – local enterprise partnerships, in other words – would be a nice answer. It looks increasingly unlikely, however, that local enterprise partnerships will have neither the money or autonomy they need to carry on Advantage West Midlands’ important work.