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Business right to be worried about Tory axe on RDAs

Posted on 23 November 2009 | 10:11am

If a clutch of business groups had attacked an important Labour policy when we were in Opposition, I think you would have heard of it. Front page news, ramped across the TV channels, you’d have heard it.

Had the CBI, The British Chambers of Commerce and the EEF manufacturers’ group all attacked our decision to introduce Regional Development Agencies, for example, you’d have heard about it. Nationally, regionally, it would have been a big issue.

So why is the business position on the Tory decision to remove them considered to be so insignificant, especially given it is so clear? I think we know the answer. It is the same answer that explains the sense of irritation at yesterday’s Observer poll showing the Tory lead down to six. How dare the public have a different take on the political scene to the pundits? Line to take – it is a ‘blip.’

Getting into a bit of Orwellspeak, the Tories say their decision is motivated by the desire to ‘give power back to local people,’ letting councils build enterprise partnerships which would take over the RDAs’ main functions.

The CBI view? – strategic decisions need to be taken at a higher level than councils. The voice of business will not be heard.

The British Chamber of Commerce? – business needs something in between Whitehall and local authorities to plan a strategic approach to infrastructure.

The EEF? – local authorities lack the ability or the funds to identify and meet priorities for a region.

There are plenty of successes the RDAs can point to, individually and as a group, to justify their existence. But the Tories’ big thing is to cut down the State, and they see this as an easy target. They care more about the ideological attack upon ‘big government’ than they do about the possible impact on regions, several of which previous Tory governments decimated economically.

I can understand if they don’t want to listen to me. But you’d have thought they might listen to the CBI, the CofC and the EEF.

Both GB and Cameron are making speeches to the CBI today. Perhaps someone will ask them to explain their very different positions.

  • James Cowley

    It frustrates me how the Media have such a grip on things, where is the fair and balanced coverage from our lovely BBC. I can expect this from Mr Murdoch, but the BBC need to ensure fair and balance coverage.

    Speaking more about the RDA’s and Business, I personally know a lot of businesses and local projects that have benefited from the support of the North West RDA, and getting rid of them will worsen the economic recovery for my region. I worried that if the Tories get into power they will decimate the North again, and totally disregard what local people need.

  • John Willman

    It’s not the only policy business opposes. The City thinks Osborne’s plan to scrap the FSA in the middle of a banking crisis is crazy. It is freezing activity for two years to move name plates – and to give control to the Bank of England which has had a very poor crisis (failing to act quickly on Northern Rock, interest rates etc).
    Then there’s the chief constables’ opposition to elected police authorities.
    The Tories have an open goal to shoot at, but their policies are gimmicks that reflect backwoodsem prejudices about Europe, regionalism etc. The latest Jedward poster is frankly pathetic – as most Tory bloggers appear to agree.

  • Claire Mee

    Another worrying story I see today – statistically Tory councils less likely to give planning permission for new homes. In other words, speak of the need for new housing in theory, but stop them being built in practise

  • Charlie Pryor

    I see one of your commenters yesterday said he thought the narrowing of the lead may be a result of people turning against the way the media keep telling us what the outcome will be. I was at Church yesterday and in half an hour milling around afterwards, met three people from different groupings – a charity, a business background and a student – all with their own different worries about the Tories. I am a Labour activist but I don’t think they are. One of them is now though because I signed her up. RDAs a very good example of something that has done good and they would get rid without regard to the consequences. I live in the North East which still has problems but parts of which are utterly transformed from what you rightly call their decimation

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Your comments miss the point. Regional development agencies have not been successful in doing what they are supposed to do. Staffed by civil servants with little to no business experience, they become vast behemoths that dish out grants and distort start-up markets. A much greater job creation effect could be achieved through giving early stage companies big tax breaks – such as scrapping corporation tax for companies with a turnover of less than £100,000 or getting rid of employers’ NI contributions for companies with less than 5 employees. These actions could be paid for by scrapping – or seriously reducing in size – the RDAs.

    Indeed there are lots of options other than employ hordes of people in development agencies.

    Moreover, there is a vast cost associated with having UK regional development agencies competing with eachother – especally in overseas FDI markets. It makes no sense having East Anglia compete with Scotland or the WDA compete with Northern Ireland. Rather, the UK needs to be sold as a package – with special regional development tax incentives put in place. The Conservatives are making the right noises about regional enterprise zones.

    RDAs are far from being a panacea – and there is no reason why the debate shouldn’t happen about their future. The Conservatives are right to ask the question whether they represent good value for money.

  • Colin Quinn

    It’s hardly likely to be in the tabloid press. There’s a large article dedicated to RDAs in today’s FT. No doubt it will be picked up by the broadsheets tomorrow.

  • Trickie Dickie

    At last some movement on the polls. Its been a long time coming. A spur to all of us who do not think this election is a done deal.
    I get the sense that the press will turn on the conservatives (cum on Paxo get your teeth sharpened)if they can see some shift in opininions but to see it they need to get out more…move out of the Westminster bubble and earn their fat salaries. It makes me laugh when you hear the likes of Adam Boulton or Andrew Neil commenting on MP’s salaries and expenses. How much has Mr Neil claimed on Bolinger tapping up his cronies over the years?
    Just keep the pressure on Cameron and Co, never give in and lets see what happens. The story will never get out if you leave it to the media, only hard graft door knocking and face to face meetings will do today its too stacked against us. The recession proof moguls are at the wheel.

  • Alan Quinn

    I remember being told in the 1980’s that manufacturing didn’t matter and that tourism, leisure and finance were the future.
    Some of us survived that onslaught where over one third of the UK’s manufacturing disappeared overnight,maybe Dave fancies finishing us off.

  • John K

    Part of the problem with RDAs is that they have no democratic legitimacy and we have no idea whether they are good VFM – or indeed whether they do any good or not. They are great at saying how much they support regional economy, but poor at demonstrating their impact.

    Maybe they are effective in the NE and NW, I don’t know about that. But here in the SW they are so anonymous most local people don’t even know they exist or that they spend over £200 million a year – £25 million of that on staff and administration.

    So while some regional-level enterprise effort may be a good thing, it’s far from clear that the RDAs are the answer. I’m not generall a fan of the Tories but would definitely support a hard-nosed review of the effectiveness of the RDAs by whichever government we have come next June.

  • Hazico


    I can’t comment much on the business sector, as little knowledge- although I have two brothers who have built up their own small businesses, and it has been a very stressful time during the recession(but still surviving.)

    On the subject of the media, it seems at present so little balanced coverage in the tabloids and mainstream press.(However- BBC excellent as ever.)

    I hear very little actual critique of proposed Tory policies for next year; how can the public make a real choice in voting, if they don’t know what’s in the bag?

    The only person I’ve come across who gives an intelligent and informed debate is Polly Toynbee in the Guardian.

    Also- very little mention of the damage done to society during the 80’s onwards, which to me explains a lot about quality of life now, and this sense of fractured communities and individualism.This is the legacy we are all still reeling from I believe.
    And Yet David Cameron and his party are proposing to pull back the state; yet concurrently ease “poverty” by enlisting volunteers to tackle?!

    Does anyone actually know what they are talking about, or is it all sound bites and spin/presentation alone?
    It is substance, not spin that should win over voters.
    Also- real evidence of progress.

    I think the Tories are getting a very easy ride in the Press- but the depressing thing is, if they win, years down the line, we’ll be back to square one.
    The newspapers are fickle, change like the wind, and back whoever is the flavour of the month….

    However, on a local level, something intersting has happened.Nottingham’s council have been taken over by a Tory administration since June.Massive swingeing cuts
    have been proposed- which may well hit things like social care, and vulnerable elderly people.(Reported on the BBC East Midlands Politics Show.)

    The local paper, Nottingham E.P.have swung into fierce criticism of the impact it is likely to have on vulnerable people public services.

    Also, Gordon Brown visited Nottingham last week, with a team of MP’s- and made an excellent impact.He has also commented the new council’s policy is very badly timed during the recession, and far too severe.

    Let us hope the people of Notts and surrounds realise this is just a taster of things that could be yet to come…?

    Maybe what local councils are doing up and down the country might hilight policies in action?

  • J.Crockett

    Blood on your hands!

  • olli issakainen

    The Tories have this policy of giving more power to local people. My guess is that it will not work. They also want people to take more responsibility for their lives. This will not work neither. It reminds me of Che Guevara´s talk of a need for a “new man”.
    We played really well against Villa and deserved to win the game. So it is a short trip to Upton Park next in store for you as we are going to face the underperforming Hammers. Perhaps we can get something out of this match too.
    I recently listened to a very interesting BBC Radio 4 programme called Politics Between the Covers. It is still available on the iPlayer, and includes comments by Lance Price on the similarities between Malcolm Tucker and AC.

  • Brian Hughes

    The slavish devotion of most of the press to the Tory cause is distressing but, as Tony Blair sort of said, politicians complaining about the media is as futile as sailors complaining about the weather.

    The Tory phony trumpeting of localism is an attempt to appeal to their core saloon-bar-bore vote just as was William Hague’s ghastly common sense campaign back in 2001. I don’t think either has as much traction with floating voters as CCHQ might hope.

    One way that Labour supporters might assist with the task of ensuring that these buffoons don’t win next spring is to write sensible, non-ranting letters to their local papers gently exposing some of the flaws in Tory policies. Even though they’re in serious decline, local papers tend to be much more widely read than even the most popular nationals.

    As Mr B also more or less put it, if we can’t defeat that lot we don’t deserve to be in politics…

  • Simon Gittins

    ‘They also want people to take more responsibility for their lives. This will not work neither.’

    What a load of cr*p !
    Why shouldn’t individuals take more responsibility for their own lives, do you really believe Labour’s nanny state is preferable ?

  • AlexM

    “So why is the business position on the Tory decision to remove them considered to be so insignificant, especially given it is so clear? ”

    Because they have so little impact on business. They were started at a time of budget surpluses as a possible mechanism for encouraging investment. After several years they appear to have limited impact.

  • Elliott Burton

    “How dare the public have a different take on the political scene to the pundits? Line to take – it is a ‘blip.'” – media and message management you would surely be proud of Alistair? A laugh a minute hearing you, of all people, complaining about the media carrying the Tory message etc etc given your past

  • Megan

    In the interests of fairness, I’m sure you won’t mind me mentioning the latest Angus Reid poll which shows Labour support down to 22% – just 1% more than the LibDems.Maybe the pundit’s ‘Line to take – it is a blip’, was the sensible conclusion to reach after all!

  • Tom

    Off piste, i know, but i can’t help but notice (from following the link on your links page) that the Labour homepage has 10 mentions of Cameron by name, and just one of Brown at the moment.

  • Marek

    You should give up with these excuses for being normal.

    You’re the man who fed the British public with out of date nonsense in order to encourage war.