Nick Vaughan: Blanket abolition of Regional Development Agencies would not be very Conservative
Nick Vaughan is an elected member of Herefordshire Council in the only urban ward held by the Conservatives, a Director of the Young Britons' Foundation and former National Chairman of Conservative Future.
The recent announcements by Caroline Spelman, Shadow of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government should, on the whole, be welcomed.
Conservatives should support the de-centralisation of power to lowest possible level.
As for the Regional Development Agencies, the elimination of some of their powers - or their entire organisation for that matter - should also be welcomed, but only to a limited extent. Conservatives should also recognise that a blanket, one size-fits-all approach should be avoided at all costs.
Some RDAs do a decent a job. I have seen plenty of evidence of this in conversations with council colleagues from across the UK during my annual trek to Party Conference. And if their local authorities are indeed working well with them, they should be kept.
Once upon a time my own RDA, Advantage West Midlands, was known by colleagues as "Disadvantage West Midlands" - and for good reason. There were terrific amounts of structural funding which were left unspent in our county. This was partly the blame of the then administration and those in their offices in Birmingham.
However, our RDA has since proved itself. We have since secured funding for a significant number of infrastructure and regeneration projects. But more importantly, AWM has gone to great lengths to improving its working relationships with local authorities throughout the region.
As such, while I am against the cutting up of the UK into regional, bite-size chunks, as part of the European federalist ideal, we must own up sometimes and congratulate those agencies which have performed well in their areas in which we serve. It is too easy to bash agencies across the board when in fact some are doing a good job. Very often now, they relieve the pressures on planning teams, which are sometimes ill-equipped, have poor expertise and are inadequately staffed to deal with complex planning applications for example.
A friend of mine who is a property developer is very concerned about simply stripping regional planning powers from all agencies. I understand his concerns. How can he expect some of the less equipped and more reactionary councils to properly consider visionary ideas, which are often rejected purely on ‘NIMBY’ reasoning? Or because the required time to consider such applications has not been forthcoming?
Abolishing some RDAs - and scrapping certain powers of RDAs over issues like planning - is right. But across the board abolition? No. That isn’t very Conservative is it?