Demand for fairness in business support

A BUSINESS leader has voiced fears of the East of England being “sidelined” amid the Government’s spending cuts and the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies.

Although the RDAs, including the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), are to be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), there is concern over the level of funding and support likely to be available to the eastern region.

Speaking at the CBI’s annual summer dinner in Cambridge, Steve Sharratt, eastern region CBI chairman, said there appeared to be a risk of the East of England being “sidelined” by the coalition government.

The region had been excluded from job creation incentives for new businesses announced in the Budget and comments attributed a senior minister indicated that regional funding should focus on the North.

“This ignores the severe impact of the recession here in the east,” he said. “In the year to March, we have had the largest contraction in employment of any of the English regions.

“Long-term unemployment has quadrupled as a result of the recession, with 194,000 people unemployed here. That’s 60 per cent more in absolute terms than in the North East.”

Celia Hodson, chief executive of the private sector-led partnership Choose Suffolk, welcomed the opportunity represented by the LEPs but also signalled concern over funding.

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“We would welcome any opportunities for the public sector to work with the private sector on local delivery and strengthening our local economy,” she said. “This new direction is about building the structures and partnerships that allow delivery to be aligned to county need and decisions to be made on the ground.

“But before any decisions can be made, we need to understand the available resource and what functions will need to be covered before deciding the most suitable structure for delivery.”

And she added: “We want to see the East of England receiving its fair share of the government’s proposed �1 billion pot to stimulate business growth.

“As one of the UK’s key regional economic drivers, it is essential that Suffolk’s public and private sectors have the necessary support to work together in continuing to push economic growth.”