Regional Development Agencies

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 12th February 2002.

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Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater 1:30 pm, 12th February 2002

My hon. Friend and I both represent rural constituencies, in his case East Devon, where foot and mouth has been devastating, and I agree. The RDA put aside £14 million to deal with the foot and mouth crisis. The crisis has cost the country more than £10 billion, but our RDA has provided only £14 million to help us.

My constituency covers part of Exmoor. The other part is covered by my hon. Friend Mr. Flook. If people want to find out what it is like to feel the cold chill of foot and mouth, they should go to see the businesses on Exmoor. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon is absolutely right—the package was too little, too late and, unfortunately, put together in a difficult way.

Let us consider the company itself. I believe that changes have been made and I am sure that the Minister will bring me up to date. Why does the board contain only three business people, one of whom—the managing director of Clarks shoes—has just resigned? The rest are all from county councils or they are union representatives. There is nothing wrong with them, but what experience have they of business? Surely the RDA is a business-orientated organisation designed to introduce infrastructure and business. If we do not have that, we do not have a viable organisation.

The most damning aspect is the role of Sir Michael Lickiss, chairman of the RDA. He is an accountant. What experience has he of business? The buck stops there and nothing has given me any comfort that the RDA is working. I call on the Minister to make Sir Michael resign and have a business man take over. As long as Sir Michael is there, no real progress will be made. It is not that he has done a bad job; he has done the job that, as an accountant, he was trained to do. Why can we not have the head of Clarks, or the head of Cellophane from my constituency, for instance? Why must we have an accountant? Sir Michael should realise the limitations he faces, say, "I've done my bit, thank you very much", and ride off into the sunset. The longer he is there, the less that will happen. We are now witnessing the proof of the pudding.

The Government should examine RDAs carefully. If they want credibility for a structure that I believe to be entirely wrong, because of its size and because they broke something that was working perfectly well, and if they want legitimacy for the RDAs, they will have to convince a sceptical south-west—a huge area—to accept that the RDA works. On the evidence of the report and the board and all the other information that I have given, I do not see how the organisation can be sustained. The longer it goes on as it is, the more it will damage the south-west. Give us the chance to show that the south-west does not need the RDA. It needs the proper funding that councils and other organisations had before.