Region ‘will miss out’

THE region is likely to miss out on investment in economic development in the coming years, a former regional development leader has warned.

Richard Ellis, who chaired the East of England Development Agency for six years before stepping down, said the loss of the �140million in investment brought to East Anglia by its axed agency will be “increasingly missed” over the next couple of years.

Regional development agencies (RDAs) were controversially axed by the incoming Conservative-Lib Dem Government to be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

Businessman Mr Ellis, who stresses that the New Anglia LEP, now covering Suffolk and Norfolk, and its chair, Andy Wood, has his full support, claimed RDAs were abolished without the economic evidence to back the decision.

Speaking after EEDA published its annual report in which it outlined its achievements over 2010/11 including creating and safeguarding more than 8,800 jobs and helping 2,800 local businesses to start up and grow, he praised the talent of its staff, and warned that the region is likely to miss out when it comes to future economic development spending.

“In terms of whether it was right to abolish EEDA, that was clearly taken as a political decision - not one backed with economic evidence - which was the basis on which all EEDA investments were made,” he said.

“But we elect politicians and it is therefore down to them to make such decisions. The new LEPs had “no money”, he said.

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“I believe that the loss of EEDA’s �140m a year investment in economic development will be increasingly missed over the next couple of years. What money has been set aside by Government specifically for economic developmen, the Regional Growth Fund(RGF), is a fraction (about 20%) of what was available to the RDAs - and the spending decisions for that fund have been centralised back to a national level. So far, I believe that awards from the RGF to the New Anglia LEP area have been zero, unless I have missed something.”

He added: “History says that this centralisation of decision making will tell against the East of England, as political pressure to spend the money in the North is particularly strong - and we are usually seen as ‘reasonably well off’ in the East. That ignores the very significant areas of economic underperformance in the region - particularly in Suffolk & Norfolk - whose performance is masked by the better off counties in the South and West of the Region. It is a little known fact that there are more people in poverty in the East of England than the North East - but here they are widely spread in rural areas and so do not attract so much political attention as urban centres with concentrated problems. Much of this rural poverty is in Suffolk and Norfolk, of course.”

New Anglia LEP chair Andy Wood said: “Local Enterprise Partnerships have been set up and, as well as operating in a challenging economic environment, are a clear move away from the well resourced and well funded bodies of the past.

“Led by experienced businesspeople volunteering their time, LEPs are a private/public partnership charged with making a strong and compelling case for Norfolk and Suffolk with a clear priority of creating jobs.

“Government has made clear that the days of large public investment are over. Therefore we will be advocating to Westminster and Europe the strong case we have in New Anglia and that as two counties working together, we will focus on projects that make a real difference.”