RDAs need ‘radical restructuring’, says report

11 Dec 08
Regional development powers should be handed down to sub-regional or city level and existing agencies radically streamlined, a think-tank has urged

12 December 2008

By Paul Dicken Regional development powers should be handed down to sub-regional or city level and existing agencies radically streamlined, a think-tank has urged. In a report published on December 9, Centre for Cities argued that government targets for economic growth should be simplified, with less emphasis on narrowing gaps in productivity across the country. To achieve this, a single development body should be created for the North of England, merging the current three regional development agencies. In the Southeast, the RDAs should be streamlined or abolished. Responsibility for areas such as the Thames Gateway should pass to the new Homes and Communities Agency and councils should be given a greater role. The report, Future of regional development agencies, said: ‘We argue that development agencies can help provide a focus for economic restructuring and growth in lagging areas, such as the North of England. However, we are not convinced that RDAs in areas like the greater Southeast are needed over the long term.’ The think-tank proposed ‘radical restructuring’ for after the next general election, saying that the reforms in the Sub-National Review did not do enough to ‘solve accountability tensions’. The scale of the agencies, which have an annual budget of about £2.2bn, was often too large, it added. Report author Adam Marshall told Public Finance he wanted city-regions to take on some strategic planning functions (a role the RDAs will take on under the SNR proposals), and to ‘give city-regions space to grow and take on greater powers in economic development and transport’. Regional boundaries often inhibited collaboration between cities. ‘Manchester and Leeds together could be a growth hub for the whole of the North of England,’ Marshall said. He added that economic policy tried to narrow the gap between the prosperous Southeast and other areas. ‘We’d just like simplification and a more explicit focus on absolute growth in jobs and employment. This report isn’t anti-RDAs, but about how in the medium to long term we can maximise regional development.’ East Midlands RDA chief executive Jeff Moore, speaking on behalf of the RDA network, said the report added nothing to the important task ‘of supporting businesses and protecting jobs during the economic downturn’. RDAs ‘have become embedded in their regions as a valued leading partner in economic development, working alongside business, local government and other partners’, he added. A spokesman for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said the government was committed to RDAs, which would have ‘a crucial role to play across the country’. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson told the Berr select committee in October that RDAs had ‘proven their ability to… deliver resources, to underpin the work of other public sector bodies and to work with the business community to both safeguard jobs and generate new ones’.


Did you enjoy this article?