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An important shift in power from Whitehall to the localities was last week claimed by ministers as they launched pl...
An important shift in power from Whitehall to the localities was last week claimed by ministers as they launched plans to put the management of regeneration aid under the control of one civil servant in each of 10 regional offices.

Senior regional directors - paid around £55,000 - will take over from civil servants representing the DoE, Department of Transport, Department of Employment and Department of Trade and Industry from April next year.

A single regeneration budget will bring together 20 existing programmes currently administered by the DoE, employment and trade departments, Home Office and Department for Education. The budget, worth £1.4 billion next year, includes money for the urban regeneration agency - due to be launched this week - urban development corporations, housing action trusts and City Challenge. Each of the ten regions will draw up an annual regeneration statement and bid for a share of the budget. The budget is £300 million less than is now being spent on regeneration projects because of a planned cut in support for urban development corporations, the Dockland Light Railway and 'the run down of the urban programme', the DoE said.

Enviroanment Secretary John Gummer will be responsible for the budget, guided by a new cabinet sub committee, chaired by Lord Privy Seal Tony Newton. 'The budget will mean priorities are set locally - in the light of local needs - and not in Whitehall', Mr Gummer told MPs last Thursday. It will give local authorities, businesses and local communities real influence over spending priorities', . After the announcement, the DoE said new directors will be appointed from within these departments in the first two years (see panel). The department's officials now control more than three quarters of the budget and also head transport regions in all areas apart from London .

Mr Gummer also invited the 'civic and business leaders' of London, Birmingham and Manchester to take part in a new urban initiative called City Pride. The scheme would not provide new money but make the most of existing investment, Mr Gummer said. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of County Councils and opposition parties all grudgingly welcomed the government move. AMA Chairman Jeremy Beecham said the announcement came 'when funding for the urban programme is being wound down, City Challenge is disappearing, section 11 grants are being butchered and local government has lost £327m of European funding because of government's failure to match grants'.

ACC Secretary Robin Wendt said: 'It is high time the government got its act together at regional level'. Shadow Environment Secretary Jack Straw said the proposals represented the 22nd repackaging of urban aid programmes. Liberal Democrat spokesman Simon Hughes said linking six Whitehall offices was no substitute for 'one democratic town hall with adequate finance'.

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