§ The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn)
I visited the north-west on 11 and 12 June as part of the Government's consultation on regional development agencies. I discussed our proposals with key players from the public, private and voluntary sectors in the north-west and was impressed by the enthusiasm with which the proposals were greeted. May I put on record the tremendous role that my hon. Friend has played in developing regional policy in the north-west and in bringing the many actors in the region together?
§ Ms Ellman
Does my hon. Friend agree that the north-west development agency will bring tremendous benefits to regions such as Liverpool by allowing environmental, transport and investment issues to be considered as part of one strategy and by enabling the public and private sectors to work together to meet identified needs?
§ Mr. Caborn
The answer to that is yes. I was pleased to have discussions with the major partners in the north-west, particularly those from Merseyside, where they were trying to identify a strategic overview that would start to address some of the structural weaknesses in the competitive base. They are saying clearly to the Government that there is a lack of direction and of a strategic overview at regional level. Regional development agencies will fill that vacuum.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Will the hon. Gentleman point out exactly what the role of regional development agencies will be compared with that of local government? Will they replace local government? Will they be additional to local government? Where will they fit in with the regional governance that was talked about before the last election?
§ Mr. Caborn
First, regional development agencies will try to start to clear up the mess that the previous Government left. They will start the move away from quangoland and bring some sanity to the sector. May I inform the hon. Gentleman that, when the Trade and Industry Committee considered regional policy driven from a competitive perspective, it found that more than 70 organisations were trying to deliver economic regeneration. Those are the problems that have been left by the previous Administration; we will clear them up in partnership with the real wealth creators.
§ Mr. Caborn
Can I just tell the hon. Gentleman that, when I was speaking to some of his colleagues from the Conservative party, and I asked whether they agreed with the previous Government's policy, they said no and that they held the new Conservative view; the old Conservative view is present on the Conservative Benches.