The Mail on Sunday

Regional policy in full bloom

- ByDan

BAD ideas never die, they don’t even fade away. Like certain kinds of weeds, they just keep coming back.

Last month’s Budget boasted an infestatio­n of that ground elder of dud notions, that veritable Japanese knotweed of terrible ideas: regional economic policy. You missed it? Easily done in all the excitement about bank tax and so on, but aficionado­s of nonsense ought to turn to paragraphs 1.25, 4.64 and 6.47.

There is to be ‘an enhanced role for regional Ministers to promote growth and inclusion and champion public service reform’. Said Ministers amount to nine and, you will be pleased to know, have proper jobs too.

You could host a three-day seminar for top economists on the question of whether growth goes with inclusion or (as some evidence suggests) whether faster growth leads to wider inequality. But no such doubts trouble those living in regional policy land.

Furthermor­e: ‘A regional growth fund will be establishe­d by the regional developmen­t agencies’ to ‘promote high-value investment in support of regional and national growth’.

Regional venture capital funds already leak money in a big way. Latest figures show the value of their investment­s shrank from £21.5 million in April 2008 to £6 million a year later.

The Budget puts no figure on this ‘growth’ fund and says the agencies will find the money from existing resources. It claims also that £255 million savings can be made at regional level. Far greater savings could be made were these bodies to be shut down. The one occasion on which the voters were consulted, in the North-East in 2004, they gave regionalis­m the boot.

Not that axeing the regions would necessaril­y save us from pseudo-regional economic policy. The Budget also enthuses at the role of local government in promoting growth and inclusion and has given town halls discretion over the spending of an extra £1.3 billion.

Regional policymaki­ng has been with us since the Sixties and there is no evidence that it has done anything but waste money and keep bureaucrat­s in work. Yes, there have been problems enough with industrial and economic management from the centre, but there have been achievemen­ts too.

Funnily enough, one important economic role traditiona­lly performed by town halls is that of granting or denying planning permission. Most people like it that way. But the Budget announced that local authoritie­s are to be bullied by Whitehall into providing a ‘sufficient supply’ of land for housebuild­ing.

So a genuine local economic lever is taken away and a lot of pretend ones, connected to nothing much, are put in its place. It says it all, somehow. Read more at http://atkinsonbl­

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