LOCAL AUTHORITIES' SKILLS AND EXPERTISE
176. There were also concerns that local authorities
might not have the skills they needed to undertake these tasks.
Local authorities, on the other hand, argued that some authorities
had sufficient expertise and were already active on economic development
issues through existing powers. Essex County Council stated that,
as a starting point, it wanted a presumption that local authorities
were competent to undertake this spending function
whilst the LGA maintained that, if a local authority was not felt
to have sufficient skills and expertise, it could face the ultimate
punishment at the ballot box.
177. A number of submissions questioned how a RDA
might measure the readiness of local authorities to take on additional
responsibilities. Many argued that funding should not be devolved
until local authorities have proved that they have sufficient
skills and experience to do so and that some sort of proof of
capacity should be sought as a measure of local authorities' competence.
Essex County Council raised the point that assessing capacity
would be even more of a challenge for those RDAs with a high number
of local authorities in their regions.
178. In oral evidence, RDAs themselves told the Committee
that they believed local authorities had the skills to deliver
these programmes. EMDA cited the £50 million, about 43% of
its budget, which it already delegates to local authorities in
the East Midlands.
EMDA set out its own procedure for measuring the ability of local
authorities to deliver economic development programmes:
We do have our own internal auditors, so if we
are going to work with a body like a local authority, a sub-regional
partnership, we do a due diligence and then we have an understanding
and agreement, a round of understanding, heads of agreement, whatever,
that they will deliver X, Y and Z. We follow it up very closely,
we monitor it and they have to give monthly reports. Every six
months I meet with the chair and chief executive of every sub-regional
partnership to assess where we are and what we are doing.
The Committee's conclusions and
179. The Committee agrees that RDAs will be better
able to focus on strategic economic and spatial planning matters
if as much as is reasonable of the delivery of the strategy is
undertaken by local authorities and other sub-regional partners.
180. The Committee welcomes the assurances provided
to it, through One NorthEast, that RDAs are preparing to delegate
responsibility to local authorities. It notes, however, that the
very different terms 'delegation' and 'devolution' of responsibility
are used interchangeably in the SNR documents and finds this unhelpful
and confusing. Moreover, the Committee notes the comments made
by Baroness Andrews that the Government appears to have changed
its position over the extent to which RDAs will be requested to
delegate or devolve decision-making. This must be clarified as
a matter of urgency.
181. The Committee notes the comments made in
evidence regarding the process by which RDAs will be able to accurately
measure the readiness and skills of local authorities to deliver
these responsibilities. The Committee seeks further information
from the Government on how RDAs will measure local authorities'
readiness and ability. The Committee foresees that difficulties
might arise if a local authority has a different opinion of its
capability than that of its RDA. The Government should be able
to get tell whether a RDA is generally willing to devolve funding
to local authorities by considering the degree to which it devolves
funding to other local authorities or in other policy areas. The
Committee calls on it to clarify whether it intends to do this
and what steps it would take if RDAs are found to be unwilling
to devolve decision making to local authorities appropriately.
149 SNR1, para. 6.48 Back
ibid, para. 6.48 Back
ibid, para. 6.71 Back
SNR3, paras. 2.51 - 55 Back
HL Deb, 24 February 2009, c84 Back
Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council submission to Government
SNR consultation Back
Ev 286 Back
Ev 278 Back
Ev 247 Back
Ev 340 Back
163 Q226 Back