Former Conservative local government leader Lord Bowness attacked the Regional Development Agencies Bill, which completed its lords stages last night, as a centralising measure which put levers of power into the hands of the secretary of state and left local authorities in an uncertain position.
Lord Bowness - former Tory leader of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the London Boroughs Association and Croydon LBC - said he wished it had been possible to have more changes to the Bill.
He said: 'It provides a vehicle for the exercise of power by the secretary of state. His hand is upon the levers of power. He appoints, he gives his guidance, he gives his directions, he decides whether or not he will delegate to the regional development agencies the powers that he has vested in him by parliament.
Lord Bowness was also critical of how the RDA areas had been designated.
'My second outstanding concern is the government's refusal to contemplate any alteration in the number of regions at some time in the future. The number is nine, but it must remain nine irrespective of how matters turn out. This measure was designed, we are told, to give power to the regions. The government have taken the regions as designated by the previous government for their regional offices, with one exception, determined that they shall be the regions for RDA purposes.
'There has been no detrmination of the boundaries by the Boundary Commission and there is no provision for the Boundary Commission to review them. The only alteration that is possible, under Clause 25 of the Bill, is to the extent of a region and not to the total number. The government has even rejected the possibility of such a review and an alteration in numbers after five years'.
Lord Bowness declared: 'Government are, whether it is intended or not, forging regions which do not currently exist, which do not currently have a significant coherence and which may not be best for the delivery of local services and policies. I have no boubt that everyone involved will do their best to make the regional development agencies work for their regions and, in so far as they are concerned with prosperity and employment, everyone will hope that they work and will wish them success.
'But we should not be under any illusion that they are local bodies. No one should be any illusion that they will not impact on local government in the areas and on the policies and functions of local government. They will be quite different from the UDCs of the past'.
But environment minister Lord Whitty replied: 'The Bill is a serious contribution to the decentralisation of power. It cannot be taken on its own. It is an initial stage.
'But, together with the cumulative process to which this government are committed, we will truly be devoving power, both democratically and administratively, to the English regions, to the greater benefit of all our regions and all parts of our regions'.
The Bill now goes to the commons for its final stages.