When the outcomes of the recent sub-national review of economic developmentwere announced, I think it would be fair to say the reaction to changing the roles of regional development agencies (RDAs) was mixed.On the one hand, the proposal to bring together strategic planning for economic development, housing and transport responds to long-standing demands from business and offers a real opportunity to generate greater prosperity across England.
On the other, the suggestion that the RDAs will be given greater powers has elicited concerns, particularly considering the fact that they are unelected bodies.
To set the record straight, there is no desire on the part of the RDA network to become an unaccountable super quango that bypasses the legislative democratic mandate of local politicians. I will be seeking to ensure that with our increased responsibilities comes increased scrutiny and accountability. However, the real debate about the sub-national review is not about who holds what powers, it is about how the RDAs and councils are going to work together to deliver more in their regions. This move is a real vote of confidence from the government in the abilities of both the RDAs and local authorities to generate real change and we need to make the most of it.
This process will be simple; there will be challenges ahead and we are not always going to agree. The RDAs have to look at what will drive economic growth across their region, while local partners, by their very nature, will have a more focused agenda. However, we have the option to work together to develop strategies that translate national and regional demands into appropriate local action.
With that in mind, the central involvement of local government will be vital in producing new integrated regional strategies. If we are to be successful, we need to ensure the right mix of regional prioritisation and tackling local need. In Yorkshire & Humber, we intend to undertake enhanced joint-evidence gathering, which will inform the production of a document that will be formally approved in partnership.
The benefits of such an approach are clear. If we work together to identify the key priorities for our economies and the broad principles we need to apply in driving growth, then we can make a real difference. RDAs will have the opportunity to plan more effective policies while local government will have the freedom and resource to do more for their residents.
We need our Whitehall colleagues to understand that a 'one size fits all' approach will not work and that will be the first test of whether the words of the sub-national review will 'bite'.
With all this in mind, a consultation exercise with the government is planned to begin in December and we want to input into this process. I want to use this to build on years of successful joint working between the RDAs and local authorities and clearly demonstrate to the government that together, we are the best mechanism for driving success across England.