Lib Dem MP’s sudden conversion from loving RDAs to loathing them

Kevin Meagher exposes Lib Dem Gordon Birtwistle’s sudden conversion from fan of Regional Development Agencies to saying they only give “crumbs off the table”.

Regeneration and Renewal magazine is reporting that Burnley Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwistle, has slammed his local regional development agency for not doing enough for the town.

Speaking at a Lib Dem fringe meeting, Mr Birtwistle, who is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, strongly criticised the North West Development Agency, complaining that areas like his missed out and were left with “crumbs off the table”, while the agency only ever manages to “create shopkeepers” and too much money gets “creamed off for administration”.

But when he was leader of Burnley borough council before the general election, Mr Birtwistle was singing a very different tune. In September 2008, he welcomed a £3 million NWDA-financed refurbishment of a disused site in the borough that helped secure 150 new jobs, saying he was glad to have a “supportive development agency”.

In April 2009, Mr Birtwistle was full of praise for a £4.9 million Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) investment to help acquire an industrial site in the centre of Burnley. Describing it as “a bold buy-out” and a “turning point” for the town, he said the “exciting scheme” would help to “attract developers and continue driving Burnley forward”.

In the same month, the NWDA invested £10 million to help deliver a new university campus for the town. As the announcement came during an election period, the response was left to the council’s chief executive. But he was no less complementary, describing the investment as “great news for Burnley”.

In October 2009, Mr Birtwistle greeted the NWDA’s £20 million injection into Pennine Lancashire, a local regeneration partnership, saying:

“This investment and pledges of continued funding from the NWDA tells us that even more positive change is on the horizon.”

In the same month, Mr Birtwistle unveiled Burnley’s controversial £100,000 rebranding exercise, again paid for with NWDA cash… ‘Crumbs off the table’?!

So what has the coalition’s record been like? Mr Birtwistle’s boss at the Treasury, Danny Alexander, started by slashing £52 million from the NWDA’s budget in July which saw a major new business park in Burnley get £3.5 million cut from its budget.

Meanwhile, local businesses are decidedly unenthusiastic about the new Local Economic Partnerships which are set to replace RDAs. They are right to be lukewarm. business secretary Vince Cable has let slip that just a quarter of the LEP bids are up to scratch while the remainder “need a lot of work”, confirming Left Foot Forward’s criticism last week that the rushed consultation process has been a total dog’s breakfast.

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6 Responses to “Lib Dem MP’s sudden conversion from loving RDAs to loathing them”

  1. David Hickey

    Kevin Meagher pulls no punches RT @leftfootfwd: Lib Dem MP’s sudden conversion from loving RDAs to loathing them:

  2. Matthew Sinclair

    How dare he turn on the RDAs after they bought his loyalty! They should demand their money back.

    Local businesses may be unenthusiastic about the LEPs. But IoD polls suggest most wanted RDAs drastically cut or scrapped. Maybe small business owners just don’t like being told they should be grateful for a quango taking their tax money and giving some of it back to a tiny minority of companies (including such British start ups as JP Morgan). Regardless of the acronym.

  3. Chris

    The endless hypocrisy of the LibDems.

  4. Kevin Meagher

    Dear Matthew – I wish regional economic bodies were completely unnecessary, but the fact remains that until we are serious about rebalancing the UK economy we will have areas that are completely economically overheated and areas that are under-developed. So we need the institutional heft to level the playing field. RDAs were doing that – not fast enough for me – but LEPs as a replacement are a joke.

    You selectively cite the Institute of Directors – which, from my experience, tends to be the more predictable, less imaginative business voice. Why not cite Digby Jones? Is it because he said the following: “Just because Regional Development Agencies were unnecessary in the South West, the South East and the East of England doesn’t mean they weren’t both successful and needed in the Midlands and the North.”

    Don’t often find myself cheering on Diggers, but he’s absolutely right. The reason the North and Midlands lag the south of England is not because people in London and the south east are smarter or more industrious; (the wealth our country, lest we forget, was made in the North and Midlands) it’s because we continue to pump-prime one half of our country to the detriment of the other half.

    Can’t find the reference to hand, but three quarters of public sector research and development investment is spent in London, the south east and east of England. Is it any wonder we have technology clusters around the M25 and M4 corridor? State spending is actively driving this inequity.

    A fairer balance of public spending and economic activity to utilise under capacity in the north and midlands and lessen the pressures on the south east is essential for the country’s long-term future prosperity.

    Unfortunately, we’re miles away. Hardly a day goes by without me reading of a whinging BBC executive or presenter trying to avoid moving to Salford in the small relocation of staff to MediaCity. Shamefully, these overpaid bureaucrats are getting expensive properties rented because they don’t want to move there permanently. Get on to that one Matthew!

    Birtwistle deserves condemnation because he represents a seat in East Lancashire that is light years behind the other side of Lancashire, never mind larger conurbations, whatever way you measure it: in terms of average income and graduate retention, right through to life expectancy and chronic ill health.

    One of the projects that now looks unlikely to come to fruition because of the spending cuts overseen by Birtwistle’s boss, Mr Alexander, is a direct rail line between Burnley and Manchester. People are trapped – metaphorically and literally – in a part of the country where power, wealth and opportunity are in short supply. If Birtwistle wants to be a toady and defend the coalition’s disastrous evisceration of regional economies, then he will have a commensurately short parliamentary career.

    Either we get serious about ensuring a fair allocation of public investment and opportunity across the country, or you southerners better concrete over your Constable landscapes so we northerners can all move to where the jobs and prosperity are.

  5. Steve Connor

    RT @leftfootfwd: Lib Dem MP’s sudden conversion from loving RDAs to loathing them

  6. Mr. Sensible

    It is nice to see that, in a former life, he recognized the role that RDAs played.

    As LFF has demonstrated both in this post and the earlier one, this business of Local Enterprise Partnerhsips has been a shambles.

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