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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