Examination of Witnesses (Questions 54-59)|
22 MAY 2009
Q54 Chairman: Welcome, David.
Thanks for hosting our meeting today. The Select Committee has
been keen to get out and about in the region. We have been in
Nottingham, we are here in Leicestershire today, and we are going
to Tupton fairly soon. We all know each other, but it would be
helpful for the record it you would introduce yourselves. The
way to do that, I have been reminded, is to push the buttons when
you speak. Shall we start with you, Martin?
Martin Traynor: Yes, I am Martin
Traynor. I am an ESEP member of the Regional Assembly and I chair
the Regional Scrutiny Board.
David Parsons: I am David Parsons.
I am Chairman of the East Midlands Regional Assembly and I am
also Leader of the County Council in Leicestershire.
Martin Hill: I am Martin Hill.
I am Chairman of the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership
and also the Chairman of Local Government East Midlands. When
I am not doing that, I am Leader of Lincolnshire County Council.
Q55 Chairman: We will try to finish
at 12.30. There is a lot to cover, so we need to be fairly quick.
Let me cut straight to the chase. How do you think emda
David Parsons: If you want me
to start, I will. In our submission to you, Paddy, we have tried
to be fair. We think that there are pluses and minuses. There
are positives where emda has achieved, certainly in its
help for business organisations. It is good on that. It can point
to coalfields renovation. Everyone has probably been to The Avenue
coking sites. It has personally helped me an awful lot on the
East Midlands China Business Bureau. We have long-standing links
with west China here in Leicestershire. Because we did not want
to just visit on a civic basis, we decided to try to develop trade
links and business links. emda took that over. It also
ran with the India desk, and has developed the links well. I am
happy with that. I have also been involved in European funding.
It has been incredibly competent on that. On the negative side,
an update of the regional economic strategy at a time when the
economy has changed significantly is something that emda
really ought to have been on earlier. I don't want to be unfair
to emda, but there is a job of work to be done there, particularly
as it serves on the Regional Economic Council with me, as it happens,
and others to try to help in the current economic downturn. We
need a coherent strategy on attracting and retaining foreign direct
investment. We need to do something about tourism here, which
it needs to grasp with both hands and develop. But I wouldn't
say it's a mixed pictureby and large, it is certainly one
of the better development agencies. It has been very helpful.
We have tried to help it as well, but there are areas that it
could and should develop.
Q56 Chairman: Do you think that
the organisation is well known in the region? Has it permeated
down? Let me test you a bit. For example, there has always been
a view that emda may not focus enough on Lincolnshire.
Martin Hill: Yes. I was going
to mention that there has always been fear about the famous golden
triangle and that, if you aren't within that area, you will lose
out. I think that things have improved. I have certainly challenged
people in emda that there are other areas. Again, as David
has said, there were certain issues years ago when emda
was first created when there was very much a focus on the Nottingham,
Leicester and Derby triangle. Efforts have been made and, although
I am not totally reassured, I am reassured that it is scrupulously
fair with how the money is allocated while at the same time making
sure that it is not just giving money away for the sake of it.
Tourism is one area that it has improved. Relations are better.
It is an area where there is a view, certainly in Lincolnshire,
that possibly tourism does not receive the importance that it
should have within the region. On whether emda is well
known, it is well known obviously by those who need to know it,
but whether the general public know of emda, I very much
doubt. We have had SSP issues. Frankly, it was overcomplicated
to have all the different SSPs, which overlapped into different
county boundaries. There was an issue there. Those who need to
know, know who they are, but I don't think that anybody else does,
particularly. The issue with development agencies is that they
are allocating Government money, so the question that you could
ask is, "Could anybody else do it, or could it be done differently?",
because the money is coming anyway. We're not sure how much money
will come in future, but they are doing that. The key question
I would ask is whether it could be done a different way.
Q57 Chairman: Can we pursue that?
How far do you think that emda is a voice for the region,
and that in a sense you own it and you are part of it, and how
far is it, as you put it, the agent for the Government?
Martin Hill: Eight of ussorry,
Martin, seven of usare elected, so you have that focus.
It is difficult to say that you are the voice of the region when,
frankly, you are all appointed, although there are obviously people
on the emda board who are also elected. I think that it
is more difficult to claim that you are the voice of the region
when you haven't got that democratic accountability. We know that
democracy is having a bit of a rough ride at the moment, but there
is that legitimacy where people can go forward. If someone has
gone out on an electoral mandate and the people have supported
that mandate, it gives you that powerful voice to say, "This
is what we think because we have tested it with the public."
That is one of the issues where you need that democratic element.
There have been issues under the new structures. There is a bit
of culture clash, because obviously emda has a more focused,
narrower, "We'll get the job done, let's just get on with
it" approach, whereas as we all know as people who have been
elected it is much more clumsy and long-windedbut at least
people hopefully feel that everybody has had a say about how it
Chairman: We will get on to that governance
issue towards the end. David, do you want to say something?
David Parsons: I think that emda
is a voice for the region. That is not to criticise emda;
the way in which it has been set up is that it is not the voice
for the region. There are several voices: the leadership group
which is being set up is clearly one, which will liaise with emda.
The regional assembly has been one, and it has been effective
in a number of areas. It has been incredibly effective in getting
regional funding allocation for local roads, for instanceroads
into Nottingham, and roads between Widmerpool and Newark and so
on. That is clearly a voice of the region as well. You could say
it is not the voice for the region because it lacks a sort of
democratic element which should be there if it was to be the voice
for the region, so you would want a structural change, but in
being a voice for the region I don't think that it has done too
bad a job in the fields that it has got involved in.
Chairman: Bob, you wanted to ask about
Q58 Mr Laxton: Local authorities
and local government have always been absolutely, directly engaged
with emda and well represented on the board. Do you perhaps
sometimes think that it is maybe a little bit too business orientated?
Also, do you think that because of the chunks of additional powersin
grant-giving and various other areasthat have been handed
over to emda over the past 10 years, in part it has sort
of diverted them and they have lost some sort of focus?
David Parsons: A couple of comments
on thatfirst, on it being too business oriented. I am not
sure that they are and I think that they ought to look at the
structure of their board. One of the criticisms that I have seen
is that they say that they are business oriented but, actually,
the people on their boardI have to be very careful with
what I say here
Mr Laxton: I understand the sensitivity.
David Parsons: They could be even
more representative of local business than they are now. Obviously,
as a democratic politician acting regionally, I am going to say
that I think that their proceedings would be improved enormously
if they took a huge account of what people like me and Martin
said. I think that that would give them more legitimacy. Actually,
on the current board, getting that message acrossthis is
a criticism of emda, I thinkhas not always been
Q59 Mr Laxton: How do you feel
about that, Martin? I'm not wanting to drive wedges in, but from
a business perspective?
Martin Traynor: I think there
is a difference between people representing business and people
with a business background. Quite clearly, people are selected
for the emda board on their business experience. That does
not necessarily mean that they represent the wider business community.
There is a distinct difference there. I would not contradict anything
that David said. The bit about democratic accountability is an
important one. Certainly going forward, as SNR flushes out, that
needs to be looked at. Your points about when the RDAs were set
up and the growth over the past 10 years
Mr Laxton: Changed quite dramatically.
Martin Traynor: It has. As Peter
will recall, when we were looking at housing the RDAprobably
in about '99
Sir Peter Soulsby: We remember it well.
Chairman: We do.
Martin Traynor: We all have the
scars from those days. We were looking at a team of about 40 people,
but if you look at emda now it is well in excess of 200,
but that is because over a period of time Government have given
them additional responsibilities. When the RDAs were first set
up, it was very much about an economic development organisation
or agency that would be fleet of foot and able to make the right
sort of interventions far more quickly than local authorities
at the time. The argument was that local authorities were tied
down with standing orders, etc. The difficulty that we have found
over the yearssomething that must go back to BERR, or the
DTI as it was in its former lifeis the interpretation of
things like state aid rules. The processes that emda has
to undertake to make sure that it is compliant with state aid
rules are making the whole process laborious. That then dispels
the argument about being fleet of foot. This is not a criticism
of emda, it is the way the system has worked. You have
a situation now in which the SSPs have an application form of
something in the region of 65 pageswhether for £500
or £5 million, which is of course ridiculous. The other difficulty
that emda has is getting its projects through. You are
looking at a minimum of 20 weeks from an expression of interest
to the potential first payment. That is far too long. That is
not of its making, that is the interpretation that BERR has put
on it through state aid rules.