The coalition Government’s programme for government, published on 20 May, stated that
“we will abolish the Government Office for London and consider the case for abolishing the remaining Government Offices”.
We are currently discussing this with interested parties, including the trade unions.
The north-west employs more public sector employees than any other region in the country apart from London. Although I welcome the Government’s plans to expand private enterprise in our local economy, assisted by the regional growth fund and local enterprise partnerships, will the Secretary of State explain how his Department plans to cushion that transition towards private sector enterprise, so that the people of the north-west and Merseyside can keep their jobs and continue to contribute to economic growth?
The north-west of England is, of course, a vibrant area full of people of enterprise. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the regional growth fund will provide targeted support to areas of deprivation, unlike the regional development agencies, which simply move one form of public money around to another public body. We will ensure that private investment is brought in and, in addition, we will have the local enterprise partnerships. She will also be aware that we will give national insurance incentives for firms in the north to create jobs, and extend small business rate relief to them. There will be diverse other measures.
With the scrapping of the regional development agency and now—so we understand—the Government office for the north-west under threat, what voice will there be for the north-west to secure co-ordinated investment for the region, in both towns and the rural areas?
Would not scrapping the Government office for the north-west mean north-west local authorities having to go cap in hand to each Whitehall Department? Would not such a diktat be of a piece with the Secretary of State bludgeoning the Business Secretary over scrapping regional development agencies? What has he to say to the former Tory leader from Trafford, Councillor Susan Williams, who asked:
“Where is the voice of the NW to government?”
and then said that it was in “a void”? Would he not leave north-west local authorities swinging in limbo, with their economies disrupted by his cuts and no north-west body promoting major regenerational transport projects? Is not his localism just a fraudulent—