Clarke confirms plan to axe RDAs

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TORY heavyweight Ken Clarke has claimed the government had lost faith with the regional development agency network, and is now only defending it because the Conservatives plan to abolish it

The Shadow Business Secretary was speaking in Manchester after addressing the Institute of Directors’ North West annual conference.

He said the RDAs’ budgets had been cut by £500m a year, this year and next, before there was a pressing need to cut public sector spending.

“The agencies had been growing at quite a rate until the present Government started cutting back on them rather severely in 2009, where they are taking
£500m out of the budget this year and next so I think the Government were just losing confidence in them even before the credit crunch.

“Peter (Business Secretary Lord Mandelson) now is frightfully keen on them because he has discovered I am in favour of abolishing them.”

Mr Clarke reiterated his determination to abolish the eight English RDAs and replace them with locally-led development partnerships.

Asked why if a system works – polls have reflected support for the NWDA among the business community – it should be scrapped, he said: “The RDAs vary across the country and in their success and in the degree of local support.

“They all have their strengths and you’ve got to make sure that the government helps people deliver the best of what the RDAs do, but we think they should be replaced by locally-led development partnerships for things like regeneration policies that need to be delivered on the ground.

“The fact that you are getting rid of the agency does not mean you’re instantly terminating every grant it has given or every project it has engaged in.”

He said he feels RDAs have more support in the “local business establishment” than among local businesses themselves.

Mr Clarke did not clarify Conservative plans for funding the successor to the RDAs, but expects that by scrapping “eight rather large government agencies” administrative overheads would be reduced.

Who would run the development partnerships, which geographical area they would cover,  and which services they would deliver, would be decided at a local level.

He said he would be “surprised” if the scale of the new body would be as large as the North West Development agency is now.