Regional Economic Development

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:12 am on 13th February 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) 10:12 am, 13th February 2001

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands--I put it no more strongly than that--the point of the meetings with the RDA chairs. The fact that we meet them does not mean that they are not autonomous bodies that are business-led. The fact that we have a dialogue does not mean that there is Government control. If he were a fly on the wall at those meetings, he would see that clearly. The fact that we meet does not detract from the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton rightly made, which is that these are business-led organisations. That was a deliberate decision. The people who are running the organisations come from the business community in their region. That point must not be lost.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the RDAs have money, resources and some powers, but they cannot achieve what they need to in their regions unless they gain legitimacy among other important stakeholders, including the community, local authority and business and voluntary sectors, and work by consent and with consensus. They are trying to do that. It is not a question of a powerful body coming in and laying down the law. If we are to create sustainable change in our regions, the RDAs understand that they need to do that above all by working in partnership. That is the hallmark of the way in which RDAs, including the South West of England RDA, have gone about their business.

The South West of England RDA certainly needs to take on board what was said by the albeit small sample of business people in the south-west. It needs to listen to the survey's verdict and to strive even harder to ensure at the very least that what it does is well known and that it is accessible to the business community. However, without wishing in any way to distance myself from or to disparage the survey, I note that the business sample is small and we do not know who the people are.

The hon. Gentleman cited a number of contentions, which I do not doubt, about what business people have said, but he did not provide any evidence or raise the matters with me previously. He has not written to my Department about any of those concerns. If he can do so now, I invite him to provide me with the detail of some of those stories, and I shall be happy to investigate them. I am not trying to set the survey aside. I am simply saying that, whatever role newspapers want to play in raising issues in the way that they do, we as Members have a role to play. We must ensure that our claims are fair and that we are not allowing an organisation to paint a picture that may not be fair. We simply do not know the extent to which the views of the 45 companies represent those of the business community in Cornwall as a whole.