Like him or not, leading the way in making cuts and abolishing public bodies since the election has been Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary. Fat Eric cut his teeth in local Government, heading the so-called “Bradford Revolution” of the late 80s, which was so well received that the electorate decisively threw out the Tories at their next opportunity.
Now he’s after the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), which are to be abolished. But what do local business leaders think of this move? The thought has entered that Pickles may not have been listening to them, if figures from his old stamping ground are anything to go by.
In July, the Yorkshire Post Business Barometer was published (see it HERE [.pdf]). The YP may have a circulation of only 65,000, but it is widely read by the local business community. It’s a solidly – sometimes bullishly – Conservative paper. Columnists include Margaret Thatcher’s old gatekeeper Bernard Ingham.
Looking at the Business Barometer report contents, then, it is no surprise to see that the personal satisfaction with the General Election result was 64% positive, with only 24% negative (page 14). On the question of the new Labour leader, 60% either didn’t have a preference, or didn’t care (page 17).
But one public body scored well with this audience: RDA Yorkshire Forward. In fact, 55% wanted to see it retained, with just 10% strongly for abolition (pages 18 and 19). This will come as no surprise to the region’s commuters: one of YF’s most widely known interventions has been to put up the money for more carriages on local rail services (commuters in Manchester have not been so lucky).
Rail has a large share of the commuter market, particularly into Leeds, where its time advantage over road is huge. YF’s move has eased, but not eliminated, overcrowding. Moreover, YF claim that 1 in 30 of the region’s workforce are in jobs as a result of the RDA’s efforts. And that their efforts have generated annual additional tax revenue of 725 millions.
If 2008-9 is taken as an example, the total of central Government (“single pot”) funding, together with EU funds, comes to less than 400 millions. That’s not a bad return on investment, so why abolish it? Eric?