A joint Department of Trade and Industry and Department for Education and Employment white paper, Opportunity for all in a world of change, is intended to build strong regions and communities by 'inviting regional development agencies to develop strategies for success in their regions'.
The agencies will be given control of a£75m 'incubator' fund to nurture new and small and medium-sized businesses.
RDAs will manage the fund on behalf of the small business service and 'particular attention will be paid to meeting the needs of women and other under-represented groups'.
The government aims to develop around 75 incubators by 2004, each supporting 30-35 businesses. This would mean a total of around 2,500 companies helped.
The white paper acknowledges the role agencies are already playing in helping enterprise in their area, especially the development of clusters - types of industry emerging in certain areas.
The East of England Development Agency said it was already doing much of what was in the white paper. 'The white paper is very much along the lines of the initiatives we're doing in skills development and developing clusters.'
The South East of England Development Agency said it had already identified clusters in the marine industries in Southampton and Portsmouth and in media and creative businesses in Brighton.