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MINISTERS OUT OF STEP IN RUSH TO AID REGIONS

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Three government departments have a finger in the regional development and inward-investment pie and observers appe...
Three government departments have a finger in the regional development and inward-investment pie and observers appear confused over the government's strategy for job creation, according to The Sunday Times (Business section, p7).

Trade and industry secretary Peter Mandelson wants to overhaul regional industrial policy. He is expected to shift the emphasis away from regional agencies that compete for projects to countrywide industrial clusters that encourage companies to collaborate.

Regional policy overlord John Prescott is creating nine regional development agencies, business-led bodies which will promote each English region. And while Prescott and Mandelson set up their bodies, education and employment secretary David Blunkett is looking after the training and enterprise councils. The three departments have about£5bn, including£1bn from European grants, to be allocated each year to help development.

The problem, according to the Confederation of British Industry, is the lack of consistent policy. Three departments that often complement each other but at times conflict need to be co-ordinated, said Andrew Hunt, regional policy adviser for the CBI, He said: 'We would like a more strategic approach to business support and would welcome a government-wide approach. Some changes in emphasis would help, such as up-skilling. In the economy as a whole a skilled workforce is good in its own right'.

Alongside his white paper on competitiveness, due next month, Mr Mandelson is expected to publish rules of engagement for the regions when wooing investment. He is understood to have persuaded the chairmen-designate of the RDAs to agree their efforts should not detract from or undermine those of other regions.

A government adviser is quoted saying: 'This pot of money should not necessarily be distributed equally among the RDAs, but these new bodies should have the autonomy to decide how much they need and then apply for their share from government. They can then distribute it. As well as cutting down on an awful lot of bureaucracy it will allow the agencies, with a better knowledge of their regions, to make best use of the cash'.

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