Government ‘should put stop to RDA plans’

The government’s should halt its plans for regional development agencies (RDAs) and slim down their responsibilities because there is “little or no evidence” that they are effective. Also, the transfer of strategic planning powers to regional assemblies should be reversed.

These are conclusions from ‘The Future for Regional Governance’, a new research note from Localis, which also said that the current sub-national economic development and regeneration review (SNR) doesn’t go far enough to devolve power from the regional tier to local authorities (LAs).

Localis said that the drive towards RDA control of housing and planning should be stopped and strategic planning powers should be returned to elected upper tier authorities. Under government proposals, RDA functions will only be delegated to LAs or sub-regions when the RDA has convinced itself that capacity exists but the burden of proof should be reversed, with a presumption in favour of devolution, the research note said. This would drastic scaling back or complete abolition of the RDAs. A similar approach should be taken in other areas (currently operating through national quangos or regional assemblies) in which local authorities or sub-regions might bid to draw down powers, such as skills, housing, transport and worklessness, Localis recommended.

There should also be more decentralisation, the research note urged, with the role of national agencies examined combined with serious consideration of returning several functions to LAs. This would enable better co-operation with LAs and sub-regions or multi-area agreements, which should stay as voluntary, bottom-up activities and “not be drawn into the bureaucratic embrace that has enveloped local area agreements”.

Regions are likely to have a “very limited” role, Localis said, although there could still be a part for government offices to play in the regions. Also, some economic functions that are best carried out a regional level could be the responsibility of the slimmed down RDAs which could also help in sharing best-practice between local authorities.

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