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CHIEFS DRAW UP ANTI 'SUPER-QUANGO' PLAN

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Six eastern region chief executives have warned that regional development agencies must have their policies led by ...
Six eastern region chief executives have warned that regional development agencies must have their policies led by councillors to stop them becoming 'super-quangos'.

The chief executives of six counties - Bedfordshire (Denis Cleggett), Cambridgeshire (Gordon Lister, who has now left), Essex (Stewart Ashhurst), Hertfordshire (Bill Ogley), Norfolk (Tim Byles) and Suffolk (Peter Bye) - have drawn up a blueprint for how an Eastern RDA could work and how it should be made accountable.

Deputy prime minister John Prescott is anxious to get RDAs running as soon as possible, and does not want them delayed while complex structures to make them accountable in their respective regions are established. The consultation paper on RDAs stresses the importance of making them responsible to the areas they serve, but initially they will be responsible to Mr Prescott and minister for the regions Richard Caborn.

The chief executives urge councils responding to the consultation paper to stress the importance of regional accountability.

'A key task for local government is not just to respond on the function and role of the RDA, but to make clear its views on how the RDA should be accountable to regional interests,' they say.

In their own area they envisage that councils, the Government Office for the Eastern Region, training and enterprise councils, the voluntary sector, businesses and trade unions would all feed ideas into an overseeing policy body to be known as the Eastern Regional Forum. Around four-fifths of the members of this would be councillors, with the remainder coming from the other bodies.

The forum would be responsible for developing a strategy for the region, covering issues such as economic development and relations with European Union institutions. This would be submitted to the environment secretary for approval, along similar lines to the current submission of regional planning guidance. Once endorsed, this would become the strategy for the RDA.

Without a body such as the regional forum with the statutory power to hold the RDA accountable, it 'could become a 'super-quango', particularly if it incorporated the current quangos with a regional structure, with no guarantee of democratic control', the chief executives warn.

RDAs are likely to be operating from April 1999. Consultation on the government's plans ends on 5 September.

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