Timothy Kirkhope: We need co-ordination to lead the region forward

WHEN the coalition Government announced that the regional development agencies were to be abolished, many people – myself included – were somewhat apprehensive about what might replace Yorkshire Forward.

We were worried whether the new bodies would have both the capacity and powers to carry on the vital task of re-enervating and re-invigorating our regional economy and acting objectively across our whole territory while distributing the not-inconsiderable EU monies which we receive each year.

I have previously written of those concerns.

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Having served, with other MEPs, on the European Strategy Board of Yorkshire Forward, I also wondered what role, if any, I and my colleagues (the only regionally-elected representatives) might be asked to play in future.

We then started to hear the emerging new proposals and they sounded exciting. Local Enterprise Partnerships which could take decision-making and initiatives close to businesses and organisations, with chairmen appointed from the commercial world.

These were backed up by enterprise zones which could really tackle employment and development needs in some of our most neglected or run- down areas.

As one of those in Government in the 1980s involved in the conception and roll-out of development corporations with their then new non-local government fast track planning powers, I was expecting similar independence for these zones.

And now the Government has announced financial support for 23 regional projects under the new Regional Growth Fund which has about a dozen people of business backgrounds on its advisory panel, but with only a small number of civil servants supporting them.

Individually, we should surely welcome these developments. It all sounds most positive and seems to be a clear demonstration of the Government’s commitment to our region,

But, and I hesitate to say it, where is the close co-ordination of all these excellent schemes coming from?

Is it from central government through a much diminished Regional office or direct from Whitehall?

Is it from local government, particularly the “super-sized” authorities like the Leeds City Region?

Or is it through the business and professional people themselves who are freely giving so much of their time and talents to help their localities?

One thing is certain: if there is no co-ordinated operation bringing these all together soon, we run the risk of factional disputes and distractions to the real and vital purpose of delivering help, both financial and practical, to as many beneficiaries as possible across our 15,000 square miles.

And I am sure that David Cameron would not be happy to see any bureaucratic or other blockages or localised “turf wars” affecting these plans. He is rightly impatient to maximise government help to our region.

So nothing must be allowed to get in the way.

And I earlier mentioned the role of MEPs. Certainly, so far, I have not been asked to contribute to any of these new organisations, despite being one of the few people who are inextricably involved with both the direction and amount of support available from Europe.

Surely, therefore, once there is a clear co-ordinating system in place I, and some of my colleagues, might be at least be consulted or be able to contribute practically in some ways to their success?

Nevertheless, I have spent a lot of my time over the last few months meeting the newly appointed leaders of LEPs and major local authority executives as well as Government Ministers, and I will continue doing this.

But what is now vital to our region is to take the very positive actions and new bodies which have been created and ensure that they are all focused on the same outcome, and not tripping over each other or finding themselves in conflict or holding any differences of view.

Maximising enterprise and job creation in this part of the UK should be the common priority and we must therefore ensure that, despite the great current economic pressures, we emerge from the present difficulties in good shape and ready to take on the world and benefit fully from our links with trading partners, whether in Europe or elsewhere.

Timothy Kirkhope is a Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber.