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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, undesirable competition must be taken seriously. The issue has existed as regards the regional development agencies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that we tackle those problems rather than create extra ones in terms of an English dimension. That is why very urgent attention is being given to ensure that the concordat which is being worked out with the Department of Trade and Industry between the bodies that will be focusing bids for inward investment is a constructive process which actually allows energy to be generated and the best to come out of the regions and their bids, rather than make unnecessary and wasteful and competitive bids between different regions. We must get the balance right. It would be wrong not to empower the regions to provide the best focus and the best face on what they can do regionally. There has to be a national overview to ensure that that is not destructive competition.
So far as concerns budgets, in the first place we are bringing together existing programmes and providing a strategic framework for them within the RDAs. As regards how that develops and how the allocation of
The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, in the case of London and the south-east--I declare an interest in that I am chairman of SERPLAN--are the elected members of local authorities to remain responsible for the regional strategy and thereby aid the Minister in regional guidance?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Earl will see the answer to that question in the White Paper that we hope to publish very soon on the Greater London Authority. I have made it clear that the special position of London, given the fact that there will be in existence a democratic body of government within London, makes it different from the RDAs in other areas, which will be accountable to Ministers because there are no regional elected bodies in place.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I note that the Statement indicates that RDAs will be "business-led". I should perhaps declare an interest as, for more than six years, I have been the honorary president of a business-led local authority network which was set up to try to attract investment to a sub-regional area, in the noble Baroness's terms; namely, the Wirral Investment Network. In all this time the one thing that the business has been really effective in doing is reminding those working in the field that it has had to cut staff and tailor its modern development to a very much tighter management. There is no mention in the Statement of additional staff for the regional development agencies and no mention of any financial provision. Can the Minister tell the House what financial provision there is to be for the additional staff and, indeed, what number she envisages this grand plan will need?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, from the tenor of the noble Baroness's intervention, I am sure that she would not wish me to answer that it is a "grand plan", with a large number of staff, that is being envisaged. As I said before, it is a matter of drawing together functions which are already being carried out by other organisations looking, for example, at the regeneration role of the Rural Development Commission and of English Partnerships. We envisage that the setting up of the new authorities will involve expenditure in the region of £5 million.
As regards staffing, I recognise that there will be uncertainty for people who are already working within Government Offices, within English Partnerships and within the RDC. However, there is no desire to establish large, labour-intensive organisations. We are talking about strategic bodies and functions which are already being carried out in other parts of government.
Since co-operatives come in all shapes and sizes--they include, not only big businesses, but small and medium-sized enterprises; indeed, there are co-operatives that are consumer based, those which are productive, those concerned with housing, credit, workers, and the like--can my noble friend say whether their claims to be represented on the boards will be fully taken into account in view of their wide and excellent experience?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. I can make it clear that, when making the appointments, we shall be complying with the guidance issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which incorporates the recommendations of the Nolan Committee. All appointments will be made on merit, and none will be made without first being scrutinised by a panel, which will include a person who is independent of government.
However, in making those appointments, we shall be seeking candidates who can bring a range of experience to the board. In particular, we shall look for those who can combine experience across a number of sectoral interests within the region. Board members will not be delegates of individual organisations. It is very important that we get it right, because the membership will be crucial to the success of the RDAs. I am sure that the acknowledgement in the White Paper of the contribution made by the Co-operative movement and those involved in it means that we shall have very strong candidates from within that movement.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I suggest that there will be adequate time for all those wishing to participate to make a contribution. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Shuttleworth, should speak now.
I must make it clear that I am not unsympathetic to the principle of the agencies. However, will the Minister tell the House in what way rural areas will be better served by the commission's regeneration role and budget being transferred to RDAs, which will be predominantly urban in character? I simply cannot acquiesce in the break-up of an organisation which has served rural England well for almost 90 years. Can the Minister say how the expertise and skill in rural regeneration accumulated in the commission over the years since its creation will be retained for the benefit of the countryside in the short and long term?
Does the Statement give a foretaste of unfortunate implications for any other government agencies concerned with the countryside? Does the Minister agree with me that, as a result of the Statement, it would not be surprising if some people in rural England felt concern that important rural needs and issues relating to jobs and businesses, affordable housing for those on a rural wage and rural services will in future be addressed, if at all, by remote regional bodies with other priorities? Finally, does the Minister agree that, whatever may be the merits of regional development agencies, the Government have today sent a negative message to rural England, as well as having dealt a devastating blow to the Rural Development Commission?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as regards the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shuttleworth, it would be sad and wrong if people thought that a negative message was being sent to rural areas by this announcement. We are committed to promoting the interests of rural areas. That was made clear both in the Prime Minister's foreword to the White Paper and in the Statement that I repeated to the House today. There was an argument about whether or not the regeneration functions of the Rural Development Commission would be most appositely placed within the regional development agencies. I appreciate what the noble Lord said with regard to his support in general terms for the creation of regional development agencies.
Regeneration will be one of the statutory purposes of regional development agencies. They are being established as region-wide bodies and must have responsibility for regeneration across their areas; it is the only way to make them one-stop shops. We believe that rural areas will gain from being included in the regional agenda rather than being marginalised out of it. We considered all the arguments carefully but decided that those functions should be transferred to the RDAs just as we decided that the regeneration functions of English Partnerships and the administration of the SRB Challenge Fund should be undertaken by the regional development agencies.
I know there is concern--it was expressed just now--that these development agencies will be predominantly urban in character. However, they will not be predominantly urban in character, and if they were they would fail. I have tried to make clear our concerns that the RDAs should not neglect the needs of rural areas. To allay those concerns we have established clear safeguards as regards the creation of the agencies. They will be subject to a specific remit to serve the rural areas of their regions. The budgets for their rural areas will be ring fenced. Outside London each regional development agency board will include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective, and there will be more such members in regions with large rural areas. The RDAs will be required to design rural development programmes targeted on their most deprived rural areas. They will be required to monitor, to consult and to report on rural problems and how they are being tackled. If noble Lords look at that list of specific areas in which rural needs and concerns are addressed within RDAs, I hope that those with an interest in rural concerns will be reassured.
I appreciate that there is a need for early decisions about the remaining functions of the RDC because we are talking here about the regeneration functions. That is why we are accelerating that part of the comprehensive spending review which is examining, together with MAFF, how to strengthen the institutional arrangements for delivering rural policy. We have to move forward in that area. We hope to have reached a conclusion in the New Year. We shall, of course, involve the RDC in that work.
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