Bernard Ginns: What lies in the wake of Pickles' northern wrecking ball?

A BLACK cloud looms over a demolition site in the North of England. Against the darkening sky, a heavy steel ball hangs from the boom arm of a crane. The controller sits in his cab below, waiting for his time.

The moment arrives and with it he releases the clutch. The wrecking ball swings through the air, gaining speed. It strikes its target, with an unholy crash.

The multi-million pound building, that once seemed so strong, caves in on itself as its broken parts tumble to the ground under a plume of smoke.

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The controller gets out of his seat, wipes the dust from his glasses and surveys his work with a satisfied look on his face. He is Eric Pickles and the structure he has just destroyed is Yorkshire Forward.

Laboured metaphors aside, the question the Communities Secretary must answer now is this: who will carry on the work of the regional development agency (RDA)?

And will anything rise from the foundations that the RDA spent so much time and money on laying?

Yorkshire Forward was developing a number of big ticket projects when the wrecking ball came swinging down in the form of Mr Pickles with his dislike for regional structures.

A notable project was the bid to create a network of single-site emitters in East Yorkshire to capture, transport and store CO2 emissions.

A cluster of power stations sit in and around a corridor running parallel to the M62 which together emit around 60m tonnes of CO2 per year, which is equivalent to almost half the annual emissions of UK households.

The RDA was working on plans to connect these emitters with a single pipeline to collect processed emissions and pump them to the North Sea, where they will be stored under the seabed.

Many of the companies behind the power stations, including Drax, had expressed support in the project, which will cost 2bn. This is not something that the public sector could have bankrolled, but the RDA was playing a leading role in developing the idea, commissioning a business plan and getting the main players together for discussions.

Another related project is the carbon capture and storage pilot at Hatfield Colliery. Again, Yorkshire Forward worked to promote the Yorkshire region as being best-placed to deliver such a scheme.

Yorkshire Forward was also working behind the scenes to help attract major renewables investment to the east of the region, in the form of wind turbine manufacturers for offshore wind farms.

And the RDA was instrumental in developing the Advanced Manufacturing Park, which has attracted a number of world class firms to Rotherham such as Rolls-Royce, Boeing and BAE Systems.

This is most certainly not a one-sided missive in support of Yorkshire Forward. The agency has spent more than 2bn to date and some of that will have been wasted on less well thought-out schemes.

But when it was good, it was very good and I do worry that the examples I have given above of quality projects might not be repeated in the future or may run out of steam without a loud Yorkshire voice fighting for them.

This is where the Yorkshire Enterprise Partnership (YEP) should come in. It has the benefit of being genuinely business led, which will appeal to Eric Pickles and his ilk.

Visit www.bigconversationyorkshire.org for more information.

n Many businesses tell me they are worried about the big withdrawal of public money from the economy, especially in the North of England.

They fear it will plunge the North into another recession while the South East continues to steam ahead, benefiting indirectly from all the public funds that have been used to bail out the banking sector.

While we should all brace ourselves for some short-term pain as the fiscal consolidation begins to bite, there are some glimmers of hope on the horizon.

Simon Hill, a senior executive at Yorkshire Forward, said he believes that the winding down of publicly funded economic development work offers a big opportunity to the private sector.

Late last year, he attended a Business Link Yorkshire event in which businesses spoke frankly about what they wanted in terms of business support.

The top three wishes were for help in access to finance, finding new markets and business planning.

These have been provided through Business Link, but equally they are available commercially at high street professional services firms.

Young companies that need help will pay for it, if rates are competitive enough and I'll wager the service is better.

Mr Hill believes the market for this kind of support is worth 100m in Yorkshire alone. That's got to be good news for the high street accountants, lawyers and marketing firms.

Could this be an example of the private sector stepping forward to fill the void left by public spending?