An independent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers published in March 2009 established that, on average, every £1 of regional development agency spend, much of which is in partnership with local authorities, will add on average £4.50 of value to their region. The PWC report found that in the Northwest Regional Development Agency area, 41,000 jobs were created or safeguarded, 8,000 businesses were assisted and 48,000 people were helped with training.
Those figures are impressive. Does it not beggar belief that there are those who cannot make up their mind what they should do with regional development agencies, which have been such a great success in regenerating and creating employment in the north-west of England?
My hon. Friend is right. As somebody who meets a number of businesses, I know that they are horrified by the idea that any Government or potential Government would talk about abolishing the regional development agencies. That is the view not only of businesses, but of business organisations such as the Engineering Employers Federation, the CBI and the chambers of commerce. However, I notice that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) have now written down their policy, in a vague attempt to see if it will last longer than one day.
Last Friday’s edition of Property Week condemned the Government’s track record on regeneration by pointing out that the pathfinder scheme has been responsible for the demolition of more than 16,000 homes, yet has created only 3,700 new homes, with a net loss of 12,000 homes. In short, the scheme has cost £2.2 billion and knocked down four times as many homes as it created. Does the Minister regard that as a success?
As I understand it, for the scheme to which the hon. Lady refers, the expenditure so far has been on acquiring the land. It will continue. The Government are looking at ways in which we can intervene in the economy at local, regional and national level to address the problems that have arisen during the economic downturn. The Opposition have a hands-off, “don’t care” attitude to regeneration and economic development.
I know that my right hon. Friend is well aware that the public railway in the centre of Sheffield has been transformed by the actions of the then Labour-controlled city council and Yorkshire Forward working together. She is probably also aware that at a Regional Select Committee hearing recently, every employers body that came to give evidence praised the actions of Yorkshire Forward in helping its members in the recession. For both those reasons, would it not be folly to get rid of Yorkshire Forward and other RDAs, particularly at this time of economic difficulty?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and as the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber I know also how much Yorkshire Forward is valued in terms of the work that it has done. At this point, even talking about removing that help sends completely the wrong message to businesses, because we can put together assistance to help people through into the recovery. For the Opposition to talk about dismantling that help is a very bad approach.