The Committee notes the strong support for a level of governance between central government and local authorities for the delivery of economic development policies and business support. There is particularly significant support for RDAs' business focus. We agree that this is an important element of RDAs' approach to economic development and business support. However, there do remain detailed concerns about aspects of the structure, work and responsibilities of RDAs.
We would have liked to have had more evidence about the effectiveness of RDAs and had hoped that the review of RDAs the Government has commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers would be available before the inquiry concluded. We are surprised the Government has proceeded with plans to restructure the way regional policy is made before the report is available.
The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill proposes substantial changes to the way that economic development policies are delivered. The four main proposals relating to economic development are: merging the existing regional economic and spatial strategies into a single integrated regional strategy, with local authorities and regional development agencies being jointly responsible for its drafting and agreement; giving local authorities the duty to undertake an economic assessment of their areas; devolving funding to local authorities to enable them, rather than RDAs, to deliver economic development policies; and encouraging collaboration between local authorities in delivering these policies.
In principle we support measures which will improve economic development at regional and local level. We also welcome the increased participation of local representatives in the process. We do, however, have a number of concerns in relation to some proposals contained in the Bill and these are detailed in this Report.
Most importantly, there needs to be a proper balance between RDAs' business focus and the role of councillors in representing the views of their constituents. We are concerned that the proposals in the Bill about the relationship between RDAs and local authorities place too much weight on the views of RDAs and business interests, particularly during the drafting and agreement of the single integrated regional strategy. We call for the role of local authoritiesand of the communities they representto be strengthened.
We also consider that many of the provisions of the Bill need clarifying. We call for greater detail on the role of the Local Authority Leaders' Board; the status of the economic assessment in relation to the integrated regional strategy; the flexibility of the proposed Economic Prosperity Boards and, in particular, the ability of local authorities to leave them if they wish; and the degree to which delivery of policies will be devolved to local authorities. We also highlight the need for both RDAs and local authorities to ensure they have the staff and skills they need to carry out these new responsibilities.