Campaigners fight for a regional successor to NWDA

A campaign backed by Peel Group, the Confederation of British Industry and United Utilities among others has been launched to retain a regional economic body following the Budget's confirmation the North West Development Agency will be abolished.

Chancellor George Osborne announced on Tuesday that a white paper will be published in the summer to outline options for replacing RDAs. They are likely to be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships formed around local authority or groups of local authorities' boundaries.

If the campaign were successful a single LEP would be formed with the same regional coverage as the NWDA, an option Business Secretary Vince Cable has not ruled out.

The NWDA's official line remains brief while the detail of LEPs emerges. Steven Broomhead, NWDA chief executive, said: "A strong, stable and successful economy relies upon strong leadership and the right framework in place to support growth. Whilst we don't yet know the detail of the Local Enterprise Partnerships, what we do know is that in the Northwest there is strong support for economic development at a regional level.

"We look forward to seeing more detail in the forthcoming White Paper. In the meantime, our job is to continue to work closely with Government and deliver economic support to enable the region to emerge from the downturn in a strong position."

Campaigners for a regional voice say it would help strengthen the case for public spending bids during the austerity era.

Private sector lobby groups including the CBI, Institute of Directors as well as major regional firms United Utilities, property and transport giant Peel Group, pharmaceuticals group AstraZeneca have all written to Vince Cable, Business Secretary, to express their views.

The letter was signed by Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council and also chairman of 4NW, the regional leaders board representing councils across the region.

In response, a spokesperson for the department of business, innovation and skills said: "The coalition programme clearly states that all of the RDAs will be abolished and replaced with Local Enterprise Partnerships, joint local authority/business-led organisations that will promote economic development in their area. If the consensus amongst local authority and business leaders in the North West is that the existing geography of their RDA matches the economic issues facing the area, then a regionally-based enterprise partnership could be formed. However, we want to reform and reorganise the delivery of economic development across the country, so not all current RDA functions will be undertaken by the new enterprise partnerships.

"The Government will be working closely with all the RDAs to ensure that the transition to LEPs is as smooth as possible and we will bring forward proposals in a White Paper later this summer that set out the approach in more detail."

The Institute for Public Policy Research North, in its statement reflecting on the Budget, said: "Significant questions remain about the relative merits of replacing RDAs with Local Enterprise Partnerships. The structure of these organisations is perhaps less important than how much power they have to actually make real changes in their area. This issue also needs to be approached region by region if we are going to see results."

The NWDA employs 480 people and spent £556m in 2009/10, much of it on behalf of central government and the European Union.

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