David Taylor, chief executive of English Partnerships until he retired in July to care for his sick wife, said that despite recent advances, urban regeneration policy still suffered from fundamental weaknesses.
A former researcher to Labour deputy leader John Prescott, he also detailed an alternative regional economic policy.
English Partnerships was established in 1994 to combine grants to regenerate derelict land and take over property owned by English Estates. It works closely with councils to regenerate inner city areas.
He welcomed Britain's success in attracting more overseas investment than any other European country, but said money and effort was often wasted trying to attract investment to unsuitable or expensive sites.
'We waste millions of pounds because of inter-regional competition,' he said and suggested putting the control of all inward investment under the Department of Trade and Industry.
Although there had been big advances in partnerships between the public and private sector and some world- beating successes in land reclamation, urban regeneration initiatives often suffered from 'bureaucratic drift' and inflexibility. 'It would help if we had a real private finance initiative,' he added.
Failure to encourage small and indigenous firms was the area of 'worst neglect' in government policy.
He attacked the training and enterprise councils for being 'driven by the dole queues' rather than by industry's needs.
He suggested subsuming TECs, English Partnerships and Business Links into reg-
ional development agencies. These agencies also needed 'new blood' and a strong partnership with councils.
A commission on regional policy set up by Mr Prescott has called for the abolition of English Partnerships and their replacement with regional development agencies.
In a separate speech to the conference, Mr Prescott praised councils' role in stimulating the regional economy. He also warmly thanked the AMA for providing him 'good information' at short notice when he was a shadow transport and employment spokesman.