LETTER: Good riddance to the North West Development Agency

I FEEL I must put the record straight on the demise of the North-West Development Agency and the non-arrival of a Local Enterprise Partnership in this area.

Monday, 22nd November 2010, 3:26 pm

I was never a fan of development agencies. Why the Government needed nine non-elected bodies to administer £5.4 billion of tax payers’ money in the country (£600m. in the North- West) annually was beyond me.

Councils were elected to do this and the money should have gone to them. I said so at the time and still say so. I thought the North-West Development Agency significantly short-changed Lancashire and spent the vast amount of our money in Manchester, Liverpool and Cumbria, giving Cheshire and Lancashire very small change indeed and I am pleased they have been abolished. Good riddance.

However, it seems the money has gone too, which is typical of the new Coalition Government. The new instrument of torture, sorry, regional funding, is to be the LEP which is to have a pot of a £1.4 billion regional growth fund, for the entire country, that has to be bid into and has no regional allocations. So “let’s make the pot 25% of what it was and make them all dance to our tune” seems to be the new Government’s localism agenda. Interestingly, it has not identified in the Comprehensive Spending Review where the money is coming from, but that’s a small point and I’ll let it lie.

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It gets worse. In the Local Government Chronicle of October 6th I read that, sadly, Lancashire was not to get a LEP.

Ministers had concluded three conflicting bids, covering Blackpool and Fylde, Pennine Lancashire and Lancashire County Council had been seen as too many, and the article then went on to say the conflicting nature of the bids was a mistake.

Well really! Even the most short-sighted, narrow-minded politician should have realised that if bids such as Kent and Essex, a single bid, Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, a single bid, and Merseyside, all of it, Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley, St Helen’s, Halton and Wirral, a single bid, were being submitted, Pennine Lancashire was never going to fly and should have upped their game accordingly to look at Lancashire and Cheshire (both Unitaries) as a single bid as a minimum. Personally I would have talked to Cumbria as well.

About a week later in your Tuesday edition I read with interest that Gordon Birtwistle, our new Lib-Dem MP, had had a very interesting meeting with Eric Pickles, Conservative Local Government Minister, and he, Gordon, had told Eric he supported the Pennine Lancashire bid and didn’t support the Lancashire County Council bid.

He had been assured by Mr Pickles nothing had been decided and would not be done so until a “senior civil servant” had visited Burnley. Hurray I though, an MP at the heart of Government, lobbying ministers for Burnley, how sick the Local Government Chronicle will be to get it so wrong.

On October 28th, the Government announced, to much fanfare, the first 24 LEPs, and to my surprise, Pennine Lancashire was not included.

How could Gordon have got it so wrong? Was his influence less than that of Coventry and Warwickshire, Greater Manchester, even Cumbria, on its own? Sadly it seems so. Pennine Lancashire will not have a chance to bid into the £1.4 billion national pot, although given its track record I would think the chances of getting anything from it were remote, they are now non-existent.

Now the blame game starts. In your edition of Tuesday, November 9th, the leader of Burnley Council, Charlie Briggs, reported his disappointment at Pennine Lancashire not getting the green light for the bid, and blamed Lancashire County Council and said they should be ashamed.

As he is a member of Lancashire County Council as well as Leader of Burnley Council, perhaps he should resign from one role or the other.

He goes on to say the rejection of the bid was expected, well perhaps he should talk to his Lib-Dem colleague Gordon Birtwistle about this as he didn’t seem to think so, at least according to what he said in his column in the Express, but more importantly, given the scale and nature of the bids that were in, if Coun. Briggs thought it was so important to have a LEP, perhaps he should have abandoned the Pennine Lancs bid, and even the Lancashire bid and upped the ante, as other local authorities had done to get somewhere instead of clinging onto a proposal they thought would fail anyway.

Coun. Briggs ended his quote saying he remained optimistic that approval for the bid would be forthcoming before Christmas, he just failed to mention which year.