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Regional Development Agencies

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in light of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills’ comment that the handling of the proposed abolition of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) had been “a little Maoist and chaotic”, whether they will now withdraw their proposals to abolish the RDAs.

There are no plans to withdraw our proposals to abolish the RDAs. We fundamentally believe that it is the right thing to do to ensure growth and economic development that meets local needs.

I thank the noble Baroness for her clear Answer, but does she agree that the Government have got themselves into a bit of a pickle—maybe an Eric Pickles brand of pickle—on this issue? Will she clarify whether she agrees with the comments of her boss, the Secretary of State for Business, and if so why will she not withdraw the regional development agencies from Schedule 1 to the Public Bodies Bill and transfer them to another schedule where their great contribution to economic development might be properly considered and assessed?

We will not do that because we know that the system does not work. It has cost a load of money and has taken ages. It has not achieved what it wanted to achieve in the first place, which was to bring the north and the south together, so it is time for change. That is why I am standing on this side of the House and the noble Lord is on the other.

What did my honourable friend in another place mean? He meant that change is upsetting and can be chaotic. Let us face it: if any of us have moved house, we know exactly what that feels like. We have set an ambitious pace for reform and are trying to move at speed to reorganise completely the way in which economic development is targeted and supported locally, where it can really impact on people. In abolishing the nine autonomous organisations, we have set ourselves a challenging task to achieve that by March 2012. Change is upsetting and unpleasant and feels chaotic, but at the end of change we know that what we are doing is for the best.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in praying in aid Chairman Mao, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, is a little out of date? Perhaps, like the Chinese, he might prefer to follow the doctrines of Chairman Deng, who commented that, after all, it does not matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.

My noble friend is very helpful. It is worth remembering that the Secretary of State has just been in China doing business for Britain, and we are proud of him for doing that.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that independent research has shown that, under the plans announced by the Government, significant areas of the country will not be covered by the new local employment partnerships? Nearly 21 million people and 780,000 businesses have been excluded from local employment partnerships, with some areas, such as the north-east and the south-west, being very badly hit.

Businesses are also sceptical about the proposals. The EEF—the manufacturers’ organisation—has said that many of the proposals fail to make their mark with manufacturers. Nor did the proposals get a much better press from the CBI director-general, Richard Lambert. For the record, it was not the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, but the Secretary of State who prayed in aid Chairman Mao. Has the Minister taken into account the economic impact of the failure to appoint LEPs in various parts of the country?

We have appointed 24 LEPs, others are coming through and very interesting combinations are coming together. The partnerships are local and are working extremely well, so I do not think that we are doing too badly. It is worth remembering that, when the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives talked to businesses before the election, we were told over and over again that the RDAs were doing no good job whatsoever and that, the sooner they were gone, the better.

Is the Minister aware of the way in which emerging LEP arrangements in the south-west seem likely to separate the great city of Plymouth, which she will know well, from much of its economic hinterland and its travel-to-work area in south-east Cornwall? This is of deep concern to the private sector, on which so much of our economic health depends. What guidance will be given to the new LEPs to ensure effective, wider co-operation between them?

The LEPs are being given a lot of help and guidance. The right reverend Prelate is right, as I come from Plymouth and live in Cornwall. Under the previous Administration, we were being run from Bristol, whereas Plymouth is right on the edge of Cornwall, as the right reverend Prelate knows well. The LEPs will make these arrangements between themselves and the arrangements will work because they are local. Local people are getting things right for themselves locally. We will assist them in any way that we can.

My Lords, I am afraid that Question Time has gone on rather long. We have reached 30 minutes and must move to the next business.